Review: COMIC BOOK CREATOR #1 (or how Kirby got screwed by Marvel Comics)

CBC1Final_MEDJust to show that I don’t automatically hate EVERYTHING, I’d like to talk about a great new magazine that has just appeared.  It’s called COMIC BOOK CREATOR and it’s from the great folks at TwoMorrows Publishing (who bring you such other excellent mags as BACK ISSUE, ALTER EGO and the esteemed JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR).  If you care at all about comic books, their history and the people who created them, you need to buy this magazine.

Edited by the unflappable Jon Cooke, CBC is a magazine that is so sorely needed today.  Not only do the articles talk about many of the creative and financial difficulties suffered by these creators but their processes, their lives and their history.  It should be required reading for everyone who reads comics and especially any who write about comics.

This first issue covers many different topics but it’s the lead cover story that is closest to my heart: Jack Kirby.  There’s not a time in my life that I can recall when I didn’t know who Jack Kirby was.  I grew up reading his comics and he was the first artist I was able to identify by sight.  If it was Kirby, I read it.

So it saddened me as time went on and I learned more about the many and varied ways that Kirby was screwed out of money that he deserved for his work.  The lead story here, by Cooke, details this sad story of a man who was taken advantage of by co-workers and corporations when his primary goal was simply to provide for his family.  It’s a tragic tale and one that everyone who considers a career in comics should know.

There are many other fine pieces here including a nice article on the last years of Frank Robbins who was an artist that I positively hated when I was a kid but have grown to appreciate and admire more every year.  Equally poignant is a portrait of comics historian Les Daniels who, despite our living in the same state, I never met but always knew about.  This article makes me regret missing out on meeting him even more.

It’s not easy to produce a magazine about comic books anymore.  Gone are WIZARD (slick pap), COMIC BUYER’S GUIDE (a beloved old title) and even COMICS JOURNAL.  It looks as if the only ones being published at this level these days come from TwoMorrows.  If you care about comics, the people who made and are making them and actually want to read intelligent, well-written articles, then you need to buy this magazine.

COMIC BOOK CREATOR is published by TwoMorrows Publishing (link here).  It should be carried by every comic book store that takes the field seriously and isn’t only concerned with the latest death spectacular from Marvel or DC.  But, times being what they are, that doesn’t always happen so, if you can’t find it at you LCS, order from them online.  I’ve ordered many things from TwoMorrows and give them the highest ratings for the quality and promptness of their shipping.

Now if they could just come out with that Jim Aparo book and the Muck Monsters book!

Advertisements

“This is an EX-Catwoman!”

jjjDon’t Get Me Started #2

Well, this wasn’t even what I had planned to rant about this time.

But some things just present themselves and you have to either address them or let your brain explode.

(SPOILER ALERT: I will be talking about events that occur in JUSTICE LEAGUE #4 which goes on sale today.  I can’t imagine anyone who will read this blog will actually want to read that comic but, just in case, I’m going to bring up a pretty major plot point.  And, right here, in advance, I want to categorically state that I have not read this comic nor have any intention to do so, hence this rant.)

Ok, you’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t read a lot of new comics anymore and those that I DO read aren’t published by Marvel and DC.  There’s a lot of reasons for this but the subject of this post is a REALLY big one.

I’m sick of all the death.

Listen, this world is rough.  We get that.  We have wars and famine and tornados and nutbags shooting up schools.  But I don’t need to see that in my comic books.  Or, at least, I don’t need to see it done with the kind of school-yard glee that exists in modern comics.  It’s what I call a “culture of mega-violence” and, in terms of comics, I feel it started with the appearance of Wolverine and the Punisher.  These were characters who, a few scant years previously, were considered villains.  Suddenly, the culture changed and these characters were considered “bad-ass” while others like Cyclops and Spider-Man were “lame” because they didn’t want to go out and kill everything that moved.

But it really started to go to hell when DC published the moronic, insipid, insulting and misogynistic IDENTITY CRISIS in which it was revealed that Dr. Light had previously raped Sue Dibny (wife of the Elongated Man) and that Sue was later killed by Jean Loring (ex-wife and erstwhile love interest of the Silver Age Atom).  Things went downhill fast after that like Fat Albert, the Blob and John Candy riding an Olympic bobsled fast.

After that joyful read, we were treated to the murder of Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) by Maxwell Lord in COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS which became a slaughterhouse smorgasbord.  This is how that murder looked:

blue_beetle_ted_kord_death

Yeh, because we needed to see that.  Never mind that Ted was a noble hero who struggled to do the right thing.  Let’s just blow his brains out and make way for a new ‘Blue Beetle’.  Yay, DC! That was in 2005.

Now, earlier this year, DC killed off Batman’s son, Damien, who had assumed the role of Robin.  Why?  I have no idea but it was probably to enjoy the little sales bump from all of the newer readers who don’t realize that death in comics is about as permanent as the Rolling Stones’ retirement.

And today, words reaches us that JUSTICE LEAGUE #4 features the death of Catwoman.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Catwoman.  A character that was created in 1940 (most likely by Bill Finger, unappreciated and generally uncredited creator of much of Batman’s mythology) and who has appeared in hundreds of comics and most likely every media version of Batman ever created.  Dead.  Kaput.  She “has joined the choir invisible” as John Cleese might say.  And this is the panel that showed it.

catwoman-dies

Look familiar?

Now, I’m not opposed to death in comics.  Some of the best stories have come from the deaths of certain characters (like Gwen Stacy in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN).  What I am opposed to is gratuitous, sensationalistic and generally unnecessary death.  A death that is really nothing more than some corporate fanboy’s masturbatory fantasy of “let’s kill off Catwoman!  That’ll really shake them up! Think of all the media coverage we’ll get out of this!”  And if you don’t believe they think like that then you really haven’t paid much attention to comic books in the last 15 years.

Comics today are an endless parade of death, rebirth, reboot and then death again.  These are the literal equivalents of when I used to play with my DC Mego Action Figures in the 70s.  “Bang!  Catwoman’s dead!  And here comes Batman!  And he saves her and she’s not dead after all!  Yay!  What’s for dinner, Mom?”

I can’t read DC or Marvel comics anymore and that saddens me.  I can’t read them because there is no joy in these comics.  There is no ‘sense of wonder’.  There is only death and grittiness and darkness.  If I want that, all I have to do is turn on my television and watch the news.

Way to go, DC.

What’s in a Game? Part 1

I have met people that play D&D, and only D&D, that call themselves gamers. Or perhaps their thing is Call of Cthulhu. Maybe they live and breathe GURPS. But when they play an RPG, they play the same one every time.  Or maybe they are heavily into the electronic gaming thing. Sure they play lots of different games, but they stick to one medium.   They don’t play table-top games of any stripe. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what you like, by all means have a great time. I think  it’s kind of cute how they call themselves gamers, though.

I am a gamer. I have a bookshelf near my office that is just loaded with RPG systems. The reason they are near my office is because I don’t have room for them in my office with all the other books I keep there.   I’ve run or played most of them, and read all of them more than once. I have another shelf in my basement dedicated to board and card games. I had a young guest come to my house once, and when she came upstairs, she looked at me with eyes wide and said, “You have seventy four games.”

“Those are just the ones you can see”, I replied.

That was a couple of years ago. There are more now.

My one weakness as a gamer comes in the field of electronic games. My wife and I decided early on to keep video games to a minimum in our house, so we have a Wii. Our only other platform is the one I’m typing on now. But I don’t mind that, because electronic games, while they can be tremendous fun,  lack a key element I get out of a game.

I get to play with people.

Like many writers, I tend to be reserved around people I don’t know very well. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but I am usually the guy in the back watching what everyone else is doing.  Put me in a room full of total strangers and a game we can all agree to play, though, and I’m at the center of the action. Games provide an instant framework, a built in topic for conversation, and something fun to do all at once. You can learn a lot about a person by playing games with them.

So for the next few posts, I’m going to write about my favorite games

I’m particularly fond of co-operative games, where players win or lose as a team. There are many out there, from the day long epic battle that is Arkham Horror, to the quick playing Forbidden Tower. My personal favorite so far is a game called Pandemic, from Z-Man Games, in which researchers and scientists from the Center for Disease Control battle plagues in a race against time. It’s quick to learn and you can play a complete game in about an hour, an invaluable trait for a game when your family is as busy as mine gets. With the On The Brink expansion, it has enough variations to make the game extremely re-playable. I still haven’t played the Mutation variation, but I am eager to.  The game is challenging to win, and fun to play.

Another excellent co-operative game is Witch of Salem, from Kosmos. Set in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the Witch of Salem pits intrepid investigators against horrors from beyond the stars. A mad priest named Necron is trying to open a gate in Arkham Massachusetts to allow a Great Old One into the world. If he succeeds, the people that don’t get eaten immediately will go mad, then get eaten. Investigators travel the town, sealing gates and defeating monsters while they gather the information they need to stop Necron. I have yet to win this game in my several attempts, but I’ve come within one turn of winning twice, only to have hope snatched from my grasp at the last second.  Like Pandemic, you can play a full game in about an hour, give or take. It’s slightly more complicated than Pandemic as well, but it plays smoothly once you have the hang of it.

On the other end of the complexity scale is  Arkham Horror, from Fantasy Flight games. Like the Witch of Salem, Arkham Horror has ordinary mortals battling for survival in a town swarming with monsters zombies and . . .things. Another Lovecraft inspired game,it also features a Great Old One stirring and consequences most dire looming. While you can play Witch of Salem in an hour, Arkham Horror takes nearly that long just to set up, and can last eight hours or more easily. I have only played this game three times, and only finished it once. However, the game plays like a well written story, with quests, treasures and even some possible plot lines.  If you have a day to set aside, a game of Arkham Horror can make it a memorable one.

For an interesting twist on the co-operative game, I like Betrayal at House on the Hill, a re-release by Avalon Hill games. Several friends get together and explore the old House on the Hill for a lark, and wind up battling for their lives when one of them goes mad and tries to kill them. Or possibly they want to keep them from saving someone else, or maybe even take them home to their own dimension and save them in little jars on their shelves.  The beauty here is, you really don’t know. In terms of re-playablility, I have never seen any game that is the equal of Betrayal. The players build the House as they play, drawing room cards and placing them as they explore. At a randomly determined point in the game, a random player becomes a traitor. There are fifty possible haunt scenarios, each with its own set of winning conditions for each side. Most of the time you will know who the traitor is. Sometimes you won’t. And in a few cases, there isn’t a traitor at all, but something else threatens your lives and/or souls. So far, the game seems balanced so both the Traitor and the Heroes have an equal shot at victory. It has a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and fairly intuitive game play.

If you have friends over and an hour or so to spare (Or a day or two in the case of Arkham Horror,) a game can be a great way to have fun. The games I mention here have kept my family happily entertained for hours. I think they would do the same for you.

A Review: SIMULACRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES by Jason Brock

brockI’m a slow reader.

Hell, I do most everything slow.  I walk slow, I drive slow, even my speech is slow.  Which is probably why I always felt an affinity for the Flash.  If I had a superpower, I’d want it to be superspeed.  Maybe then I’d be able to catch up to everyone else.  But it’s in reading that bothers me the most.

It’s really created a lot of problems for me over my lifetime.  In school, it always took me longer to read textbooks.  When a new book comes out, others are already writing reviews about it while I’m still on the first chapter.  It’s not that I’m slow in understanding concepts or have a reading disability, I just read at a much slower pace than most other people.

Which makes it hard if I’m struggling to get through a book when I look over at the “to-be-read” pile and it keeps growing and growing.  So a book has to really grab me in order to make me finish it to the end.  Otherwise it gets tossed aside for the next item.  Short story collections can be even worse because, for so many writers, all the stories blend into the same.  After a while, I can’t even remember what I’ve read.

These days, I can’t be bothered with a book that bores me or is poorly written or just an effort to get through.

SIMALCRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES by Jason Brock is not one of those books.

Brock is one of those writers that you just really want to hate.  He’s so damn prolific.  At any one time he’s writing a dozen short stories, a novel, two non-fiction books, articles, a screenplay, editing a documentary and probably ruling an alternative dimension or two.  He is the Flash to my Turtle.

And it would be easy to hate him if it weren’t for the fact that he’s so damn good at it all!  You’d figure that in a collection of short stories and poetry that there’d be a dud in there somewhere.  Some chink in the armor that I could prod and scheme in my head with a Wicked Witch of the West voice, “I’ve got you now, my pretty!”  But there isn’t a misstep in the bunch.

Not a one.

This is Brock’s first collection and, if this is any judge, there’ll be many more to come.  Most of the stories are reprinted from other sources but in such a wide variety of titles that it’s doubtful that anyone would have seen them all.  And it’s that variety that really binds the book together.  You literally have no idea what he’s going to do next.

Not many writers come off well when you read a lot of their work at one time.  It’s like watching an old TV show that you used to love on DVD.  As the episodes roll by, you’re amazed at how similar they all are and you find yourself spotting the same patterns over and over again.  It changes the way you look at that show and that proves true for many writers.  You spot their patterns, you can predict what they’re going to do and how the story is going to end.

That doesn’t happen with Brock.

Each story and poem is wonderfully different and unique.  From plot to style, they each stand alone.  It’s as impossible to classify these stories as it is to classify Brock himself. Neither fit into clean, neat niches.  There’s horror in these tales but also science fiction, mystery, death and life.  The poems experiment with different forms and structure in a way that will likely make traditionalists cringe.  Yet, in each and every story and poem there is no doubt that you are in the hands of a master craftsman and all you can do is hang on until the ride is over.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite although several stories stand out.  “What the Dead’s Eyes Behold”, which begins the collection, is an unsettling examination of the title question.  “The Central Coast” has echoes of Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone.  In fact, “The Black Box” is a direct sequel to a classic episode of The Twilight Zone and brings it to a newer, darker conclusion.  “Milton’s Children”, a novelette about unexpected exploration, brings up memories of Lovecraft, King Kong and The Thing.  One of the most effective aspects of Brock’s fiction is the way it sneaks up on you.  Much of the horror is implied in that, much like the characters in the stories, it sneaks up on you and then stays long after the story is finished.  “The History of a Letter” is a perfect example of this.  You feel the confusion and compulsion of the narrator and, like him, are swept up in events you can’t understand.

There echoes of many writers in Brock’s works.  There’s Beaumont here along with tastes of Serling, Lovecraft, Bradbury and several others.  But it’s the combination of them, and the way that Brock makes them uniquely into his own shifting, acrobatic voice that propels these stories and poems.  There will be a lot more stories and novels and poems to come from Brock and I can’t wait to find out what they are.

SIMULACRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES by Jason Brock.  Hippocampus Press.  Paperback.  $20. Available from: http://www.hippocampuspress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=10_12&products_id=121

Old Friends

Wandering the fertile realms of sci-fi and fantasy has introduced me to many interesting people. I’ve gazed upon paragons, such as Superman. I’ve shared the struggles of ordinary mortals thrust into events beyond their control, in Mordor and beyond. There are people  that have impressed me, confused me, intrigued  me, and one or two that have terrified me. But along the way there are people I came to know very well. They live in books I read over and over again, books so well loved I don’t even need to search for the good parts any more. They just fall open to them at a touch. Let me introduce you to some of these friends.

David and Leigh Eddings wrote several fantasy series together, but their first was undoubtedly their best. The Belgariad is just full of people I really enjoyed the company of. Durnik, Silk, Mandorallen and Barak are people I would recognize anywhere if I saw them, and while I wouldn’t want to fight any of them, I would love to hoist a tankard with all of them. (But if Silk were there, I’d leave my money at home.) These men are so very different, yet play off each other brilliantly. Silk, the amoral rogue and brilliant spy, is probably my favorite to watch, but Mandorallen, “the greatest knight on life,” as he modestly claims, is the one I’d spend the most time with.  Belgarath and his daughter Polgara, excellent characters though they are, walk in too lofty a circle for the likes of me. I doubt Polgara would give me the time of day, let alone spend time in my presence. Belgarath would be great fun if I could get him telling stories, but he’s a bit busy. As an ensemble cast, they are tremendous fun and a nearly unbeatable team. I have whiled away many an hour in their company traveling the world at the demand of the Prophecy that drives them.

Miles Vorkosigan is a different sort of person altogether. I’m not certain we could ever be friends, but I would be honored to work for the man. Lois McMaster Bujold’s greatest creation (in my opinion, of course,) and his family have won her four Hugo Awards and nominations for six more, and for good reason. Miles is a man driven to excel. Physically disadvantaged from birth in a military crazed culture that deplores mutants, Miles is the son of one of the greatest men of his generation. His deformities are the result of an attack suffered by his parents when he was in utero, rendering him brittle and sickly most of his life. But his mind is a tool he wields  with tremendous skill. Rather than try to hurt his enemies, Miles tends to co-opt them. As he puts it, and I paraphrase, “Why should I try to beat their strengths, when I can maneuver them to a place where that strength is useless?” Miles’ loyalty, whether to his servants, his friends, or his world is uncompromising, his approach to problems unique, and his sense of humor hilarious. Bujold’s style lets us into his life in a deeply personal way. We see his struggles, which makes cheering for his successes all the more satisfying. And the rest of his family and friends are equally impressive. As much as I treasure time spent with Miles, his father Aral Vorkosigan could claim my loyalty in a hot second, and his mother Cordelia is a woman not to be trifled with.

And then there is Harry Dresden, star of the Dresden Files novels created by Jim Butcher. Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I said some people have terrified me? Harry Dresden is on the short list. Which is odd when you consider some of the other short lists he makes, such as “Person I would trust with my life.”  Harry is a wizard living in Chicago. In fact, he’s the only entry under “Wizard,” in the Chicago phone book. And friends, Harry is the real deal. This is a man who commands the forces of nature, who stands between us and things too terrible to contemplate. The facts that he read a lot of comics as a kid and plays RPG’s to relax (he plays a Barbarian.) are merely incidental, and don’t pander to my interests at all. There have been thirteen Dresden files novels so far, and of those there are only two I have not read at least three times. (I will not prejudice the jury and say which ones they are, if only to provide you with more incentive to find out for yourself.)  Harry is a dedicated man, surrounded by characters that are real and compelling. His challenges are epic, the risks he takes meeting them truly terrifying, and his solutions bold and unexpected. As dynamic and powerful as his enemies are, his friends are even better. Karrin Murphy, Harry’s closest friend, is either the best or second best female character I have ever read. Her only competition is Cordelia Vorkosigan. (Edding’s Polgara rounds out the top three. Do you see a pattern here?)

There are more out there. I could go on about Corwin, Prince of Amber. We could talk about Rincewind or Commander Vimes, and the many excellent Discworld characters from the mind of Terry Pratchett. If I wandered out of genre for a moment we could dwell on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. But in genre, these three sets of characters are the ones I return to again and again when I want to feel welcome or wonder.  If you haven’t met them yet, I urge you to go make plans to as soon as possible. You won’t be disappointed.

Matt Yslesias on What Makes Star Trek Great

Matt Yglesias at Slate has a nice review of the various iterations of Star Trek and why the seminal science fiction franchise is better as a television show than a movie.

In the second episode of the seventh season of the fourth Star Trek television series, Icheb, an alien teenage civilian who’s been living aboard a Federation vessel for several months after having been rescued from both the Borg and abusive parents, issues a plaintive cry: “Isn’t that what people on this ship do? They help each other?

It’s an unremarkable episode in one of the worse iterations of the franchise, but the need for an isolated and impressionable young man to offer his assessment of the situation brought a certain clarity to the whole project. The Star Trek oeuvre is immense. Five television series adding up to many hundreds of episodes plus 11 films (so far) and untold novels, comics, and other licensed material. Even restricting myself to TV and movies, it’s an awful lot of material to process. But angsty teen Icheb hit the nail on the head there, plaintively begging Captain Katherine Janeway and the ship’s holographic doctor to let him undergo a dangerous medical procedure that just might save the life of another ex-Borg on the ship who has served as his mentor. They let him go forward, because he’s right: People on the Federation StarshipVoyagerdo try to help each other, as did the people on the various other vessels named Enterprise and even the staff of the Deep Space Nine station.

Starfleet officers help people. And God bless them for it. 

The entire article is well worth reading.

When you take a look at how the different television shows were able to explore so many different questions about humanity and existence and being and morality and justice and all the other unknowables that encompass the great questions of life it is pretty clear that Star Trek deserves a place back on the small screen.

Don’t Get Me Started! #1

jjjI used to love comic books.

For a long time, they were really one of the most important parts of my life.  I practically LIVED for each week’s new shipment of comics.

I have two brothers who are older than me (10 and 9 years older, respectively) and they were into comics so, when annoying little brother came along, it was inevitable that I’d get into comics too.  And I was voracious!

I read everything!  I read Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Flash, House of Mystery, Chamber of Chills even NIGHT NURSE!  If it was Marvel or DC, I read it.  And I read anything else I could get my hands on.  Comics from Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Archie, Harvey, Tower, anything and everything.

Not only that, but I studied comics.  I wanted to know everything about them.  “Who was that character in Brave & the Bold last month?”  I could tell you.  Who created Superman and how and when?  I knew it.  I wanted to know everything about comics not just the stories and the characters but the people who created them.

That’s when, I think, things started to sour a bit.

For those who aren’t aware, comic books have an awful history.  I won’t even get into the allegations that the mob was behind much of the early days of comic books and their distribution.  Nor will I talk about the shady deals and the unfounded lawsuits.  I won’t even talk about the comic book censorship of the 1950s that essentially shut down EC comics and stripped comics of virtually all of their creativity and relevance.  But I could (and just might someday)!

In the 70s, there really wasn’t anything you could call a “comic news network”.  There were a few fanzines but nothing like it is today.  Most of what we did have was concentrated around the stories and characters with not a lot of creator background.

That began to change in the late 70s and really gained speed in the 80s.  The first time I remember really taking notice of the way comic companies treated their creators was during the Siegel & Shuster incident.  As Warner Brothers was making the first SUPERMAN movie in 1978 (with Chris Reeve) and preparing for a massive PR campaign, I started hearing little news items.  It seemed that the original creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster) were living in virtual poverty as a movie that would make millions was preparing to come out.

I was only 15 at this time and didn’t really know a lot about the behind-the-scenes life at comic companies despite having a brother who, by that time, was actually working in comics.  Long story short, the fan community (led, in part, by Neal Adams who was then a creator with a lot of clout with fans) revolted against DC and eventually Siegel & Shuster were awarded lifetime pensions and credit for their creation. (You can read more about this case online and a brief overview here.)

That day made me proud to be a fan.

And when Marvel Comics tried to keep from returning Jack Kirby’s artwork and the fans were there to support Kirby, I was proud again.

We fans had the creators backs and they, and the comic companies, knew it.

I’m not proud to be a fan anymore.

The reason is because, when issues like Kirby and Shuster come up now, the fans take to the internet and social media to express their anger and outrage.  But not against the comic companies.  They’re angry at the heirs of Kirby and Shuster for daring to not only ask for credit or compensation but for daring to risk the end to their beloved comics.

The vitriol I have seen expressed online is truly depressing.  And it’s not even just against heirs of deceased creators either.  Example: Ken Penders recently filed suit against Archie Comics for rights to characters he created for the SONIC comic book.  (You can read about the newest update on that case here.) Many comments on this case again side with the publishers.

There are many other cases like this happening where many of the fans are not on the side of the creators.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, like junkies worried that someone might shut off their supply.  Somewhere, somehow, comic companies have managed to win fans over to their side and I just can’t figure out when that happened.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t buy and/or read new comic books from Marvel & DC anymore.  This is one of them.  I’ll talk about the other one, and why I feel guilty looking at my bookcase of high quality hardcover reprints, next time.

(“Don’t Get Me Started” is an editorial by Sam Gafford.  All views expressed are simply my own and do not reflect any other staffers here at the L.O.D.G.E.)

%d bloggers like this: