Thursday, February 14, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Blue Beetle #3

I love the fact that, after leaving Marvel, Steve Ditko continued to produce Spider-Man covers for those fine folks in Derby, Connecticut. Ditko somehow accomplishes the impossible, making the former Oddball Hall of Famer Blue Beetle seem almost cool. BB's action pose is pure Spidey goodness, and kids must have scratched their heads wondering why they suddenly felt compelled to actually purchase a Charlton comic. I wonder if the Madmen would have eventually ended up as a Spidey foe, but they seem a bit too weird for the Marvel Universe. Ditko obviously has a thing for clown-like characters. The colours are borderline garish but great, and Ditko has really managed to infuse this cover will an enormous amount of kinetic energy. Charlton's brief Giordano-led renaissance was a sight to behold but all good things must come to and end. Luckily, Ditko had a few more wonderful Blue Beetle covers in his arsenal before the whole thing imploded.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Enter the Dragon Covers

There aren't many things as cool, or as disorienting, as a hall of mirrors. The final sequence to Enter the Dragon featuring a hall made up of reportedly 1,000 mirrors helped make Bruce Lee an icon. Comic book creators were also keenly aware of the dramatic possibilities afforded by a hall of mirrors. There are plenty of covers, which I've decided to call Enter the Dragon covers (much cooler than Hall of Mirror covers, dontcha think?), with all sorts of different twists on the themes. Here are a handful of the best:

The team of Andru and Esposito created countless classic covers over the years, and this cover to Wonder Woman #134 is no exception. I've heard said that if you are ever looking for a specific comic book cover theme, check out Wonder Woman, as every bit of ground has been covered. Wonder Woman is somewhat taken aback by her hostile reflections, and we can only wonder if the Mirror Master has decided to make a cameo appearance in the Amazon's title. This raises an interesting questions (and fans of Heroes may have some insight) - why is our Mirror-self always nastier than our real life persona?

A few years later, Neal Adams decided to try his hand at an Enter the Dragon cover for Detective Comics #389. The Mirror Batman makes the Mirror Wonder Woman look downright friendly. DC was wise to have Neal Adams do so many covers in the late 60s, but I really feel like they shot themselves in the foot with their giant Detective Comics with Batman and Batgirl logo. On this cover, it almost seems that Batman is hunched over so that he doesn't bang his head on the logo. All in all it makes for a somewhat squished Enter the Dragon cover, which doubles the claustrophobia, I guess.

Around the same time, the folks at Marvel decided to get in on Enter the Dragon with Gene Colan's Daredevil #61 cover. Luckily, for DD's sake, it seems that the 6 Emissaries of Evil has been reduced to a mere threesome, the newly dubbed Trio of Doom (whatever happened to the good old Marvel alliteration?). While it is quite a handsome cover, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Daredevil's reflection is all wrong - the leg nearest to the mirror should be reflect, but perhaps I'm being a bit anal. Second, and this is the big one, is precisely what effect would a hall of mirrors have on a blind man? Would DD simply focus on hearbeats etc...? It seems like a simple solution to me. I guess I've got to go back an re-read the issue.

I've saved the absolute best for last. It's the best only because I owned it as a child, and things that have nostalgic value to me always win top honours. It's my blog so I can make up whatever rules I want. The late 70s was a great time to be a kid - Twilight Zone episodes were still re-run on a regular basis, and the Gold Key comic remained on spinner racks more than a decade after the show's cancellation. I'm certain that I obtained Twilight Zone #90 as part of a 3-pack on a road trip - probably along with a Little Lulu and Adam-12. This cover is absolutely gorgeous. I assumed that it's by George Wilson, but I can never be sure with Gold Keys. It's a real shame that they didn't provide creator credits and I would love to see the Gold Key titles indexes some day. Don't ask me to do it, because I'm lazy and I'd just put down Frank Bolle for everything.
Folks, that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'd love to hear about some of your favourites.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Steve Gerber: Adventures Without Fear

This morning, I logged onto my computer at work and was saddened to learn that Steve Gerber had died.

One of the first comic books I remember owning was Howard the Duck #10. It was published a few months before my 5th birthday. I am not sure how this ended up in my hands, but I’m guess my parents saw a duck and Spider-Man and must have thought this was the perfect comic book for me. My road to becoming and uber-cool comic book fan was somewhat delayed by the fact that I absolutely hated this book. Like many monsters, I tend to hate things I don’t understand and boy did I ever not understand this comic. It stayed in my collection, and I tried to read it again several times over the next few years. Each time, I grew more frustrated, as I simply did not understand what was going on. Sure, there was some sort of straightforward story that I could follow, but there was also something beneath the surface that I just didn’t get.

That was my intro to the world of Steve Gerber. I guess you could say that I hated him before I even knew who he was.

Of course, we don’t remain petty little children forever and over time, I read more and more of Steve Gerber’s work and the light bulb hidden in the basement of my puny brain eventually came on.

Steve Gerber was one of the most important comic book creators of all-time. His ability to blend humour, fantasy, science-fiction, politics and action into a big bowl of satirical gumbo was something that hadn’t been seen before in comics. I’ve been reading the Essential Man-Thing collection lately, and I’m amazed at how he can make reference to Lord of the Rings and the Hanoi Hilton on a single page without it coming across in the lame ‘there goes the gang at Marvel trying to be cool again’ manner that we’ve seen so often. A true testament to the man’s talent is that his books have not aged at all. They are still wonderfully entertaining to this very day.

When Stan Lee christened him as Steve ‘Baby’ Gerber, it was kind of like calling a fat guy ‘Tiny’ or a bald guy ‘Curly’. Steve’s fight for creators’ rights demonstrated a level of maturity and intelligence that belied his nickname. I don’t have a real appreciation of the inner workings of the funnybook industry, but it is obvious that Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel was struck a real chord, and he became a source of inspiration for many other creators. It is a real challenge to be influential on both a creative and political level. Steve Gerber managed to do both beautifully. He was a rare breed and I am very, very happy that I never gave up on trying to understand Howard the Duck #10.

Rest in peace, Steve. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Veronica Martian Chronicles

A long time ago, we used to be friends… Unfortunately, you were nowhere near as cool as Veronica Mars so I stopped calling.

Veronica Mars, the Nancy Drew for the new millennium is about as cool as it gets. Actually, she’s so cool that it requires suspension of disbelief, but that’s ok. I was pretty late to this series (partially because it was only slowly picked up by Canadian networks during its initial run), but have enjoyed marathon DVD sessions. This is a bit of a tweener series – probably too hip for the CSI crowd and too complex for the ‘I want Heidi Montag’s life’ crown. Hence, like all superior shows it dies a premature death. I’ve just finished the second season and I have been reluctant eyeing Season 3 on my local video store’s shelf. As I did with Freaks & Geeks and Like Arrested Development, I try to savour every episode – relishing every witty retort, every clever detective technique.

Season 2 was a real improvement over the 1st one. Getting rid of the whole Kane family saga was wise, as the Lily flashbacks grew tiresome and Duncan was the show’s weakest character (and actor). We also get to see the more sinister elements in Neptune, as Veronica is now contending with tough gangs rather than simply wannabe frat boys. I’m constantly impressed with the writing – the ability to lace a good mystery with plenty of witty banter is a real skill, and it is done beautifully here. If you’ve ever wanted to know all about Veronica Mars, but were afraid to ask, take a chance. Pick it up and see what everyone missed while it was on.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

You've Been Warned: Brave and the Bold (2007) #1

Even though it only cost me $1, I felt very hesistant to pick up this book as it's risky seeing your favourite series of all-time relaunched. It reminds me of that Tina Fey line about the rumore Bennifer remake of Casablanca "It's for those who liked the original, but wished it was terrible". Waid script start off just fine - a bit of a classic Batman mystery and some decent dialogue. Then we hit Vegas. I thought that only TV writers were obsessed with Vegas, now we've got to see out favourite JLAers playing poker. By this point, I've pretty much given up.

Actually, it was the mental exhaustion from trying to follow the action in the Batcave fight that first made me groan. I can't believe I used to really like Perez (we're talking post-Dillin JLA and Song of the Tiger here, folks). I could not make heads or tails of what was happening in most of the fight scenes. By the time I saw Bruce and Hal chatting up some women in circa 1981 Studio 54 outfits, I knew that I would not be buying #2. I kept expecting Terry Long to show up in one of his suits with super-wide lapels. When is the last time George Perez turned on the TV or read a magazine? I recommend picking up a copy of the original Brave and Bold #200 to cleanse the palate.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Machine Man #11

Marvel relaunched Jack Kirby's Machine Man after a hiatus of nearly a year with Steve Ditko taking over the art chores. It may some like heresy to Kirby fans, but I think it was a major improvement. The flexibility and fluidity that Ditko gave to Machine Man really makes the character work for me - you need a bit of whimsy in a series about a robot. The cover to Machine Man #11 is pure bliss for a Ditko fan. It is so simple, and yet so powerful. He's playing around with perspective here - the right arms seems to be reaching out to the reader for help as the left arm disappears into nothingness. This creates a real sense of vertigo. It still astonishes me that DC and Marvel would often have someone other than Ditko provide the cover for his books. This man knew how to design a cover - and Machine Man #11 is one the finest he did in the late 70s.

A Month of Pure Dick

I’m not exactly the world’s greatest expert on science-fiction but I decided to dive headfirst into a rather unsettling experiment. I would read four books by Philip K. Dick back to back to back to back. By the end of the month, my brain hurt, but I think that’s because it expanded a good deal. I’m still a little unsure out what to make of some of the themes and ideas in Dick’s books, but I always say that's a good sign. Here's a quick overview of the 4 novels I tackled.

The Man in the High Castle
As I understand, this is seen by many to be Dick’s masterpiece. It is both epic and approachable (did I just use wine terminology?). The comic book fan will enjoy the What If?/Elseworlds feel to it as Dick does paint a pretty convincing picture of how WW2 might have ended. The book brought Stephen King’s The Stand to mind, as they both deals with macro issues trickling down to a micro level. I am still fascinated by the Japanese obsession with Americana that Dick so vividly described. It is hard not to see him as being quite prescient. A fine read that I’d recommend to anyone, not just nerds.

Dr. Futurity
As I understand this is a fairly minor work by Dick, but I enjoy it immensely. The complexities of time travel and its impact on the future (or present, as it were) are explored here and I was left contemplating some pretty big issues. It’s not as grand or sweeping as some of his other books, but it is an enjoyable read and left me quite satisfied.

Dr. Bloodmoney
This is a rambling epic with certain similarities to The Man in the High Castle, as people contend with a very uncomfortable post-apocalyptic future. Survivalism and anarchy are two of the major themes here, but the main thread that runs through the book is greed, or is it jealousy? Or is it bigotry? Or is it genetic & ethics? What I am getting at is that the one shortfall of this book is that too many major themes are explored, and none are resolved in a satisfying way. The whole time I was reading it, I thought ‘this would have made a great movie in the 70s’, but I’m guess I would have been disappointed with the ending. The concept is great, and the execution is good but somewhat flawed.

The Eye in the Sky
After reading this mind-bender, I had to take a break from Dick. It is perhaps the most challenging of his books that I’ve read. The challenge is that the narrative is somewhat obtuse and the ideas being explored here (mostly question of perception of realities) are doomed to leave the reader search for more satisfying answers. I am glad that it made my brain expand a little bit, but I kind of wish I has read it as an undergrad. My streetcar commute and solipsism do not mix well.