Some things never change…

dsc07684

(Note: This is a sample pic and NOT the comic store I visited.)

I had some extra time the other day so I did something that I rarely do now… I went to a comic book store.

Now, keep in mind that not only was I a part owner of a comic store years ago (circa 1988) but there was a time when I would go to comic stores several times a week.  At one time, roughly around 1993 or so, there were about 12 comic books stores within quick driving distance from me in Rhode Island.  Now, I think there’s about 5 (and two of those are owned by the same person) so the economy hasn’t been the best for comic stores.

Anyway, I bitch and complain a lot (as anyone who has read these blog posts realize) about how there’s not much good worth reading for comics these days.  So, every so often, I make the trip and stop in at my LCS to see if I’m not just being a whiny old comic fart.

Sadly, I wasn’t.

During the 70s and 80s, I read EVERY Marvel and DC that came out… even the bad ones.  Yes, I read all of Marvel’s NEW UNIVERSE titles and even such illustrious DC fare as PREZ and BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK.  I knew all of the characters, all of the history, even all the obscure trivia.  This time, I looked over the selection of Marvel and DC comics and did not see ONE comic that interested me or made me want to pay the expensive price they demanded.

There were a few independent comics that looked interesting but, invariably, the store only had the 2nd or 3rd issue or it was the 14th issue and there was no way I could afford to pick up the 13 previous issues even if the store had them.   Clearly, stores could no longer afford to stock a lot of the independents either as the selection was spotty and a completist’s nightmare. And if stores don’t stock the titles, how will anyone discover them?

As I looked through the stacks, desperate to find SOMETHING to buy, longing for that same connection that had sustained me through my youth, I could hear the conversations taking place around me.  The speakers were young men, probably around early to mid 20’s, and they were standing around the cash register much as I spent time so long ago.  And I heard conversations that brought back memories and, at the same time, disturbed me.  They were discussing who was ‘hotter’: Black Cat or Scarlet Widow.  Some relatively racy dialogue was sprinkled through which I’ll spare you here.  Needless to say, if you’re a guy who grew up reading comic books, you’ve probably had this conversation yourself at one time as I’ve had.

That’s when it hit me: I was out of place.  I didn’t belong there anymore and that shocked me.

You see, comic stores were my domain when I was their age.  Other guys strutted through bars or gyms.  I strutted through comic stores.  That was where I had the most confidence I’d ever had and could talk to others who felt the same.  It was my Cheers, my Arnold’s, my Pop’s Chock-Lit Shoppe.  But somewhere, at some time, that had all changed.

I was the one thing that I thought I would never be in a comic store: the outsider.

I didn’t fit in.  They were discussing the NEW DC or Marvel’s AGE OF ULTRON and I was about as clueless with them as other kids had been around me in grade school.  I’d lost my mojo.  I’d become the “old man comic fan” who I’d seen in my own shop so many years ago.

Quickly, I made my retreat.  As I drove away, I realized that this was the same feeling that had come over me the last few times I’d been to major comic conventions.  I couldn’t relate to the comics or the people.  These were the new fans, the ones that all the comic companies are fighting to attract.  The comics were tailored to what they wanted to see with the mindset and attitudes they admired and emulated.  And they were not mine.

I haven’t been back to a comic store since then.  I probably will at some point but, in a way, I lost a little something that day.  Something that, barring a time machine, I may never feel again.

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“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.

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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.

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.)

Stan Lee, Most Interesting Man in the World

Now I understand why Tony Stark mistook Stan Lee for Hugh Hefner in Iron Man.

(via BuzzFeed)

How The Dark Knight Rises Should Have Ended

For your enjoyment (spoiler warning).

Order! Order!

This was probably the most anticipation I’ve felt coming into a summer movie season ever. With Dark Night Rises, Marvel’s The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man all hitting theaters within months of each other, it was a tough summer to wait for.  Now that I’ve seen them all, it’s time for judgment. SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen any of these movies yet and still plan to, best not read on. I don’t plan on going into tremendous detail, but I am going to give stuff away.

But first, a word on how I watch movies. I see maybe six movies a year in theaters. Because of that, I only go to movies I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. I believe actors and directors have the right to re-imagine a character taken from somewhere else.  I have the right to hate it, but I’ll watch with an open mind. I am a very forgiving audience, for the most part, although advancing age has made me  easier to bore I am becoming a bit more discerning with experience. As a general rule, if I walk out of the theater feeling entertained, I’m happy. This summer, I have been consistently ecstatic.

It was tough for me to pick a favorite on this list. Competition was very, very strong. But at the end the day, my favorite was The Avengers, and for only one reason. Joss Whedon came closer to the comics with his movie than Christopher Nolan did with Dark Knight Rises. Joss captured so many of the little touches that made Marvel Comics new and different so long ago.  One of the best of those was the ancient Marvel axiom that says when superheroes meet for the first time, there’s a fight. And what a collection of fights we have! Thor and Iron Man square off. Captain America gets involved in that one,  to spectacular effect. Cap and Tony face off out of costume. Thor and Hulk go a few rounds.  Black Widow demonstrates what a sane person does when facing the Hulk, as only the Widow can.  Hawkeye gets to shoot at everybody.  And at no time do the fights feel contrived. They flow naturally from the story, logical outcomes for the situations.

Another thing that makes The Avengers shine is the fact that everyone mattered. There isn’t a single member of the team you win the final battle without. If Hawkeye isn’t on overwatch they get overwhelmed on the ground. Without Cap calling the shots the battle is lost, and there are huge civilian losses. Without the Black Widow you don’t close the gate, and without Iron Man, Thor  and Hulk on the front lines you’ve lost before the battle starts. And of course, it is Iron Man who strikes the decisive blow.

The Dark Knight Rises comes second for me. This is not to suggest it was a bad movie. On the contrary, Christopher Nolan can rightfully call this trilogy a masterpiece, with this movie a fitting final offering. The story is internally consistent and compelling. His characters are complex, well realized and well played. Anne Hathaway did a magnificent job with Catwoman. Tom Hardy was a compelling and frightening Bane. I think Michael Caine could have phoned in Alfred and still been good, but since he didn’t he is excellent. Bale’s Batman is convincing, and Bruce Wayne deepened as a character.

If  it had really been Batman, it would have been perfect. But it wasn’t. Why do I say this? The Batman out of the comics is flatly incapable of doing the things he does in this movie. Oh, not the fights or the gadgets or the escapes. That stuff was on target.

Bruce Wayne would never give up. There would never be an eight year hiatus. There certainly never would have been an arranged death, at least, not so he could retire. As a tactical move and part of a larger plan, absolutely. But not to retire. As long as it was possible for him to do so, Batman would continue. It’s the central fact of his character.

Finally, we come to The Amazing Spider-Man. I liked this movie. I will confess to a slight bias, here. Spider-Man is probably my favorite character in all of comics.  It is a major tribute to the other two films that I am putting this movie in third, because I think Marc Webb put together a good story. He even gave me the villain I wanted to see in the Lizard. We  get to see Spidey cracking some jokes, which I missed in Tobey Maguire’s performance. The story stays close to the Ultimate Spider-Man story and thus true to it’s source material. The action looked great. The scenes where he learns about his powers are priceless. I will never forget watching him accidentally tear the bathroom apart by trying to brush his teeth.

I’m torn on the issue of web-shooters. Part of me enjoys the nostalgia. But Peter didn’t invent webbing in this movie. Oscorp did. Did I miss the scene where Peter learned to make his own? I saw him build web-shooters, but I don’t remember seeing him make web fluid, or biofiber, in this case. So where’s it coming from? Simple. He steals it from Oscorp.

Wait! Peter Parker does what? He steals with hardly a second’s thought? This is a man who agonized for like six issues over whether it was okay to sell a gold notebook he . . .okay, acquired . . . from  a building  turned to solid gold by the Beyonder in Secret Wars II. (He finally did, only to get hosed by the fence he had to sell it to.)

Please, tell me I’m wrong. Call me a fool and tell me where you saw Peter make his own webbing. Give me a reason to go back to the theater. I’ll thank you, because otherwise he’s a thief, and that doesn’t work anywhere near as well for me.

Now that it’s over, (it is over, right?I haven’t forgotten anything?) I will look back at this summer movie season as a great one. I left a lot of theaters ( . . . okay, three theaters.) very happy. Feel differently or disagree with my rankings?Tell me why.

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