Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"...Is the voice thing permanent? It's hot." G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #228 review

The line of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero action figures were primarily geared towards boys and - because of some market research about boys' buying habits - figures of female characters were seldom produced. However, the place where G.I. Joe was truly fleshed out was the comic books written by Larry Hama and he began expanding the cast of female characters from his very first issue, with the Cobra villain Baroness (who would later migrate into the cartoons and action figures) and Dr. Adele Burkhart, who would become a recurring character in his stories for many years (dying in a recent story).

In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #228, Hama (and regular artist S.L. Gallant) embarked on an unusual plot by utilizing an all-female cast, with appearances by virtually every living female character he's used (with the exception of Grunt's wife) and introducing a number of new female characters. There are literally no male characters in this issue.

Part of the story continues a subplot about the Cobra forces as Baroness and Zarana (the two female Cobras with action figures) train the recently-recruited Dawn Moreno. There's also a continuation of an ongoing subplot about Duke's wife, Claire Hauser, who was recently reunited with Duke after being believed dead for years - but it seems Claire may be one of the many people Cobra has brainwashed and she ambushes the Joes' ally Jane. In another subplot, the recently-introduced Joe Bombstrike (a character who had appeared in other comics but only just began appearing in Hama's stories) goes after a Cobra lab being run by Dr. Sidney Biggles-Jones and Dr. Cassandra Knox. In yet another plot, the Joes Scarlett & Jinx visit Storm Shadow's aunt Obake Obaasan and we're introduced to a female Red Ninja named Akane, who has some kind of a grudge against Jinx.

Finally - and most compellingly - Cover Girl returns to duty after a recent throat injury, giving her a rough voice. Although Cover Girl was the 2nd female Joe to receive a figure, she's never amounted to much in Hama's stories - perhaps her voice can be her "thing?" Anyway, Cover Girl and Lady Jaye go to see the mother of a deceased Joe named Shooter and present the medals Shooter had earned to the mother. Shooter was a character who existed very deep inside G.I. Joe lore, primarily as an in-joke about Marvel Comics editor Jim Shooter. In G.I. Joe: Declassified, Hama established Shooter as a female sniper who was a "secret" member of the Joes in their earliest assignments but died early on without the Joes even realizing her involvement in their work. I loved Hama's story about Shooter (Declassfied is a forgotten masterpiece) and having the cast finally get to acknowledge her sacrifice and help Shooter's mother cope with her death was a great idea. The scenes about Shooter justify the entire concept of an all-female issue of G.I. Joe. Well done Hama!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Boy, that atom bomb sure was our pal." Buz Sawyer review

I've blogged before about Captain Easy, a great comic strip adventure hero who was created by Roy Crane. I have a lot of time for Easy, especially during the Crane years. Those comics have great action, humour and page design. Now, when Crane eventually left Captain Easy in 1943, it was to create a new strip: Buz Sawyer. I've been aware of the Fantagraphics reprints of Buz Sawyer but, based on what I'd read of that strip, it didn't interest me the way Easy still does. However, finding the first two Fantagraphics volumes (The War in the Pacific and Sultry's Tiger) on sale for 50% off, the price was right.

The titular hero, Buz Sawyer, is a pilot in the midst of World War II's Pacific Theater. Many of the adventure strips of the time involved their characters in the conflict (ie, Joe Palooka, Terry and the Pirates), but Buz Sawyer was designed from the outset to be a war strip - which meant it had to shift gears rather quickly when the war came to an end only two years into the strip's run.

Crane had prepared some real estate for the war's end, making occasional trips back to Buz's home town Willow Springs and introducing Buz's family and fiancee, even sending Buz home for Christmas 1944. The post-war strips (which begin in Sultry's Tiger) find Buz dealing with the post-war reality, finding himself unable to reassimilate with life at home and eventually becoming a commercial pilot - albeit, a commercial pilot who's always being sent to exotic locales and getting into two-fisted adventures. Essentially, Buz transformed into Captain Easy after the war.

Perhaps the most interesting character in the strip is Sultry, an exotic woman of some eastern origin who tries to romance Buz (that is, she's much like the Dragon Lady). Sultry is the main player of the best storyarc in Sultry's Tiger, that being one which involves her pet tiger scaring Buz's fiancee Tot, who falls off the ledge of a building in fright. For that reason, if you are interested in trying Buz Sawyer, I recommend you begin with Sultry's Tiger and skip the wartime version of the strip.

Although Crane's art on Buz Sawyer was as good as his Captain Easy work and he laboured much longer on Buz Sawyer, Captain Easy remains his definitive work - much as with other adventure strip creators who left their original creations (Milt Caniff's Terry and the Pirates, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon) to create less-celebrated successor strips (Milt Caniff's Steve Canyon, Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby).

Friday, June 24, 2016

"Real ball of yarn, that girl. You sure know how to pick 'em." Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In review

At this point, Dark Horse publishes Beasts of Burden about once per year. My blogging about this series is now intended more to remind fans this series still exists; my recommendation for the book comes without reservation. The latest is the recently-released Beasts of Burden: What the Cat Dragged In.

"What the Cat Dragged In" brings to mind the earlier story "Something Whiskered This Way Comes" (issue #3 of the Beasts of Burden limited series). Like that story, the featured players are cats: Orphan, Dymphna and the Getaway Kid, joined now by a raccoon named Hoke, giving the book some variety. These tales stand out becaues the series is - nominally - about dogs battling supernatural threats.

In this story, Dymphna needs help returning to the vacant home where her owners once lived. Breaking in, the animals discover Dymphna had conjured up a demon the last time she had been there and said demon had taken control of the household, tormenting the other cats living there. Thus, Dymphna has to outsmart the demon; by the end of the story, there's a major revelation about Dymphna.

Regardless of characters or plot, the best two things about Beasts of Burden are writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson. Thompson's painted art keeps the animal cast believable but emotive. Dorkin's stories repeatedly delve into horrific encounters with demons and black magic, yet always have a deep emotional core. When I recommend Beasts of Burden to friends, I choose those friends who love their pets. The animals of Beasts of Burden are tortured and die, but are also loving and courageous.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Angola in the Comics Part 6: Roy Lance

Yesterday I looked at the creative and moral bankrupt ways of DC Comics. What's my transition? Well, Angola went financially bankrupt. Boom. Welcome back to Angola in the Comics!

This time I'm heading back to Fiction House's Jungle Comics and issue #6 (June, 1940). The Grand Comics Database does not know who wrote this story, but they think it might be Nick Cardy.

Our hero is one Roy Lance (who appeared in Jungle Comics from 1940-1942), one of that popular breed of action heroes best described as "the great white hunter." Unlike other brands of jungle heroes, the great white hunter seems to owe more to reality than fiction. Journalist Henry Stanley did his part to popularize his own brand of fiction - depicting himself as an unstoppable explorer, the type art would imitate with pith helmets and jodhpurs. This type of hero flourished in the first half of the 20th century (when jungle heroes were at their peak), with the likes of Allan Quatermain managing some staying power. As independence came to Africa the idea of white men "taming" the wilderness went out of fashion, but the romanticism associated with them endures to this day - witness the recent Cecil the lion story.

Our tale begins with Roy (clad in a smart red shirt and - of course - a pith helmet) aboard a ship bound for "the port of Angola, French Equatorial Africa." Er, what? Being a country, Angola is rather more than a port. At that time it was under the control of the Portuguese, not the French. Right here in panel number one, I'm tempted to give up; the problem with comic books set in Africa - no matter what era they're created in - is that so few comic book people have ever set foot in the continent, thus their ability to render the place believable is limited to the state of their reference files. Right here, it seems like someone totally misunderstood Africa's borders. Angola lay just beneath French Equatorial Africa.

Anyway, Roy is accompanied on this trip by Jill March, a "young woman scientist" whose mission is to combat "the dreaded tsetse fly." However, the governor of Angola, Malraux, orders them to stay out of the interior. Lance quickly decides to ignore him and leads Jill to the interior with a few Africans bearing their supplies. On their second night, a band of "savages" steal some of their supplies, but Lance heroically shoots them in the back. They finally reach a small village on the floor of a valley where they discover a population of white people who have been enslaved in order to manufacture weapons for Malraux.

One of the imprisoned men explains he used to work for Malraux and that the white people are a "lost tribe" and Malraux "took advantage of their ignorance. They were easily enslaved by Malraux's black brutes." Ugh! Once again, simply terrible; much like the popular H. Rider Haggard fiction of the day, this story posits the existence of white civilizations in Africa, a subtle way to validate the white man's supposed ownership of the continent. Further, the native Africans are the "brutes," the ones inflicting slavery upon white people. This is the kind of comic a racist of the time would look at, nod and remark, "sounds legit."

Anyway Malraux hears Lance is in the hidden village and sets out to confront him, but he's bitten by the tsetse fly and needs Jill to save his life. Jill does so and Lance uses Malraux's sickness as an opportunity to rally the white slaves to rebel. "You have a right to rule yourselves," Lance states. Which would be great, if the African population he was addressing had been, you know, African. Lance's words are effective and the slaves destroy the munitions factory. Lance brings Malraux back to Angola where the French authorities take charge of him. Lance kisses Jill, then goes on his way.

  • -5 estrelas for lousy understanding of African geography
  • +1 estrela for depicting the tsetse fly in Angola
  • -5 estrelas for putting the French in charge of Angola
  • -10 estrelas for immensely problematic racism

TOTAL SCORE: Negativos dezenove estrelas!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Watchmen Babies Noir

A few months ago I spoke to a professor of film studies about "film noir." As the term has become quite elastic, I wanted to hear how he defined the phrase. He admitted he held a very broad view on what could be considered film noir - in fact, he had taught a class on film noir using the John Ford film The Searchers, a western film renowned for its color photography and widescreen vistas, none of which are elements we commonly associate with noir. However, he argued that because the protagonist was a man returning from the war who finds himself an outsider and thrust into a situation of moral ambiguity, there was a valid basis for considering The Searchers film noir.

There was a time when film noir meant more than black & white photography or the lead being a detective. Film noir as it was originally understood meant Out of the Past, Double Indemnity or Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, but because the term leant prestige to films, fairly soon it was taken over by marketing until today we find "film noir" is a virtually meaningless descriptor.

Above: "Film Noir" Barbie clothes

On that note, here's a recent solicitation from DC Comics:

WATCHMEN NOIR HC

Written by ALAN MOORE Art and cover by DAVE GIBBONS

Now presented in stark black and white, highlighting Dave Gibbons dark, moody artwork, experience the greatest graphic novel of all time as never before! WATCHMEN begins as a murder mystery, but soon unfolds into a planet-altering conspiracy. As the resolution comes to a head, the unlikely group of reunited heroes—Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias—test the limits of their convictions and ask themselves where the true line is between good and evil. Collects the original 12-issue WATCHMEN series in black and white for the first time! On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 416 pg, B&W, 7.5” x 11.5”, $39.99 US

"Watchmen Noir." Not simply "Watchmen in Black & White" but "noir." The term is used as a buzzword; it's printed in black and white? By Gar, it must be noir!

What is the purpose of reading Watchmen in black and white? The only idea I can conceive is that one might find a new way of appreciating Dave Gibbons' artwork without the colouring of John HIggins. Certainly, when I bought the black & white Essential Spider-Man back in 1997 I found a new love for Steve Ditko's art. Mind you, I also loved the book's $20 price tag - if I could have had the same content in colour for the same price then I would have switched to colour.

Watchmen Noir is like the reverse of Ted Turner's flamboyantly garish colorized films. But, here's the thing, Watchmen was not in colour by mistake. Gibbons didn't accidentally load his pages in the washer with his colours and go, "Whoops! I guess this has to be a colour comic now!" Part of why Watchmen continues to elicit such strong reactions from its audience - and is a mainstay of college comics studies - is that the creators had such fine control over their storytelling, that virtually every line, word and - yes- colour on the page was there intentionally and held a meaning. Black & white is a very worthy medium in comics, one I've enjoyed seeing creators such as Milt Caniff, Stan Sakai, Jeff Smith and Dave Sim labour within. But on the occasions they worked in black & white, that informed their artistic decisions.

But aye, as Will Smith once said, "there is the rub." Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' creative control over Watchmen has long since become a joke, a mocking sneer from the publisher they trusted, an unwilling parent to generation after generation of Watchmen Babies. And yet, despite these repeated attempts to mine Watchmen's success, the work continues to stand, still considered a great achievement in comics storytelling. Moore and Gibbons may have had to bargain with a monkey's paw in order to see their work published, but they can rest secure on its continued reputation - which is more than you can say for the Watchmen Babies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Random Assortment of Reviews

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #1

"The Case of the Cockney Golem Chapter One: A Beast in Baker Street" by Roger Langridge (writer) and Andy Hirsch (artist)

This is a new series about three children (and one dog) who enter into the employ of someone claiming to be Sherlock Holmes in order to investigate the suddenly-animated statue of a lion which goes on a rampage through Baker Street. The series is inspired by some of the ephemera surrounding Sherlock Holmes. It's interesting, in fact, to note how minor figures in the Holmes canon like Mycroft Holmes, Irene Adler and Professor Moriarty loom much larger in works outside the canon. Likewise, Holmes' landlady Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street children are the featured players in this series, while they were barely visible in the original stories. In fact, the Baker Street kids are more accurately the offspring of William Gillette's stage play, rather than the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This story seems to involve magic (what with the animated stone lion) which is supposed to be a no-no in detective fiction, but it suits the light comedic tone. As an all-ages comic book, it has plenty of funny dialogue by Langridge. If I hadn't known from the outset that he didn't draw this book, I'd have looked at Hirsch's art and assumed it was Langridge using an inker; which is to say, Hirsch's art is perfect for Langridge's form.

Baker Street Peculiars is published by Boom! Studios: "Freelancers' least-favourite publisher!"

COPRA #14

"Wir" by Michael Fiffe (writer/artist).

I'm still slowly going through the series Copra an issue at a time and at this point, the series has begun to delve into character-driven tales of the various cast members, rather than addressing the ongoing plots. This issue features Wir, the armor-wearing teenage member of the team. For much of the issue it's a quiet narrative about the day-to-day doings of listless teenagers and their usual routines. Up until the closing pages where the usual tone of Copra reasserts itself, it's like a male version of This One Summer. A very nice change-of-pace for what is becoming a series - and creator - I intend to pay attention to.

Copra is published by Michael Fiffe: "You guys, self-publishing is still a thing."

G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #227

"Cobra Nation Part 2" by Larry Hama (writer) and S.L. Gallant (artist)

Larry Hama is still kicking it old school on G.I. Joe with an endless series of running subplots and his usual cast of hundreds. This issue features Cobra Commander being forced into a new arrangement with his former ally Destro; the new Snake-Eyes learning how to shatter a sword using ninja magic (which is getting well outside of the level of ninja mysticism I like to see in this series) and the Joes welcome a new member Bombstrike (new to this continuity at least). It's nice to have another new character in the Joes' ranks as part of what made Hama's original run on the series in the 80s so enjoyable was the steady influx of new faces. The absence of new figures to sell has made it easier on Hama to tell the stories he wants to without having to shill for Hasbro, but I liked the way the commercial demands made him pivot from time-to-time; after all, Hama has stated repeatedly that he doesn't plan the series in advance but instead plots everything on the fly. New characters should always be part of that.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is published by IDW: "We're not an IP farm, we're an IP rest home."

THE MIGHTY ZODIAC #1

"Starfall Part 1: The Shadows Have Ears" by J. Torres (writer) and Corin Howell (artist).

Finally, we have the beginning of an epic story set in a world populated by anthropomorphic animal people. 12 of them are of the same race as creatures from the Chinese zodiac (snake, rooster, ox, etc) and are evidently being set up as the protagonists. It seems six stars have fallen from the sky and a dark power - represented by evil rabbits - are on the loose. A few of the heroes are introduced and it all has a lightness of touch similar to that of Kung Fu Panda. If that's your thing, this might be your thing too.

The Mighty Zodiac is published by Oni Press: "We publish more than just Scott Pilgrim, apparently."

Monday, May 23, 2016

"You self-blinded fool..." Mr. A #18 review

One of the best things to come of comic book creators turning to Kickstarter is that it's helped a true living legend of the medium - Steve Ditko - to continue producing work. Perhaps the exposure he's gained from Kickstarter is greater than what he had before, as self-published comics have a terrible time gaining traction in today's comic book market.

The latest Kickstarter production from Ditko is a new issue of Mr. A. Of all of Ditko's creator-owned characters, Mr. A is surely the best-known. Because the character is used to help enact Ditko's objectivist philosophies, he is also a character quite close to Ditko's soul.

In Mr. A #18 there are two stories; in the first, "Mr. A and the Horror," a man in a monster mask goes about extorting money from people. Mr. A sets out to stop the extortioner, but his victims are far too protective of him. In the second tale, "The Score," a businessman commits suicide and Mr. A sets after the men who drove him to that end.

Surprisingly for Ditko's work, there are sub-plots in these tales, whereas his self-published stories normally each tell a single tale. In both stories, there's troule at the Daily Crusader newspaper where Mr. A's civilian identity works, eventually leading to the return of the paper's first publisher who sets things in order at the climax.

Although I have no great love for objectivism, I rather like this book more than the other recent self-published Ditko comics I've read. His art seems more detailed and the lettering sharper. I only hope there are many more stories to come.