Saturday, August 16, 2014

At long last (son of Krypton)...

Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, and Laura Martin

It took a while, but it has finally happened: a regular, main publishing universe Superman comic from DC actually feels like a Superman comic again.

I really wanted to like Superman at the time of the New 52 relaunch - I really wanted to like everything at the time of New 52 relaunch, for that matter, but as I've discussed in the past, (and a lot of other times in the past, at that) Superman resonates with me more than almost any other fictional character, so I was especially hoping to like the then-latest take on Big Blue - but it never clicked with me for a lot of reasons.  The most obvious (and admittedly superficial) is That Costume, of course (though the "workin' man" outfit he wore in Morrison's Action Comics flashbacks wasn't much better), but in their desperate attempts to make this Superman seem fresher, they de-emphasized or outright jettisoned a lot of elements that make Superman, well, Superman.

He's not a reporter anymore, he's a crusading social blogger!  He's not married to or even dating Lois Lane, he's hooking up with Wonder Woman!  He's aloof, sad, and lonely, because brooding is what the marketing department seems to think is popular!  He spent his early years taking on corporate fatcats, because the Occupy movement was huge in the news at the time the series was relaunched!  And so on.

I understand that Superman is perceived as being a hokey concept in the ever-cynical 21st century, and that trying to make him seem hip and edgy is obviously a priority for the Greater Warner Bros. Marketing Machine, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel, that trick never (or at least rarely) works.  We don't look to Superman to be hip, we look to Superman to be capital-G Good; anything else just doesn't feel right.  All of the New 52's efforts to distance Superman from that seemed at worst a total failure, and at best they reeked of trying too hard.

Not that things were much better in the era just-preceding the reboot.  The less said about that "Superman goes on walkabout through the American heartland" thing, the better.

The end result of this is that it has been so long since a regular Superman book read like a regular Superman book that the return to form by Geoff Johns, John Romita, Jr., and company feels fresher than most of the rest of DC's current output.  Clark is still being written to feel like the ultimate outsider, but Johns got a lot of mileage out of that in the now-sadly-abandoned Secret Origin mini, so under his pen it feels right (and let's be honest, he is the ultimate outsider-looking-in, so that feels natural; and if I'm being honest, it appeals to the Aspy in me, making Superman more relatable that ever).  But at the same time, you have Perry White all but blackmailing him to return to The Daily Planet and trying to coax him out of his shell and rejoin his traditional comic book cast/family, which is brilliantly metatextual.  This Clark seems less like an aimlessly idealistic 20something, and more like the confident reporter of the past (and even at his most bumbling, Clark had to have been a great reporter to get and keep that job).  Lois Lane smells a story, Jimmy Olsen has his own weird story going on in the background, Steve Lombard is a lout, Ron Troupe is the smartest guy in the room... it's the Silver, Bronze, and Chromium Age cast all mashed up and brought into the now.

And then, of course, there's the whole thing going on Ulysses, the man who thought himself to be the "last son of Earth" whose origins and powers parallel those of Superman's, and the villain who seems to be haunting them both... already very curious to see where that's going.

DC's relaunch efforts got off to a shaky start and for nearly 2 years I didn't follow any of the titles regularly.  In the past year or so, though, they've been starting to win me back little by little.  The Jeff Lemire / Andrea Sorrentino Green Arrow was fantastic.  The first two issues of Grayson were fun reads and if #3 is just as good I think I'm in for a while.  I'm really looking forward to Gotham Academy and the new Batgirl.  But to like a Superman book again... if I'm being completely honest, this is the thing that I'm most excited about.

If only they could do something about that costume.  No one seems to be able to make it look good.  Not even John Romita SENIOR!
Art by John Romita Sr., Klaus Janson, and Laura Martin
If the senior Romita - one of comics' greatest artists - can't make your costume look good, it's a bad costume.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams, RIP

Popeye is a beautifully weird movie and if you think differently then I'm terribly sad for you.
I've been reading and watching a lot of Robin Williams tributes this week, but the one that stuck with me the most was one from Paul F. Tompkins.  This passage, in particular, resonated with me:
Robin Williams made me laugh so many times. So many times. When I was a kid, having problems of my own, feeling unpleasantly different from the people who populated my world, I found sanctuary watching this guy on TV who was celebrated for being a weirdo, for being an oddball, for being silly. He was praised for having a mind that produced delightful absurdities with great speed. No one told him to be quiet. No one tried to make him act like everyone else.
This, exactly, summed up the appeal of Robin Williams to me, from the Mork & Mindy days all the way up to more recent times.  As a kid (and more than a few times as an adult), I was told I was weird, that I was acting out, that I needed to start being "normal", etc.  Here, though, was a guy who was not only allowed to follow the flights of his fancy to every weird little place they brought him, but both encouraged to and well-rewarded for doing so.  That was amazing to me, and incredibly important to developing my sense of humor, sense of self, and general outlook on life.  I saw what the so-called normal kids looked, sounded, and acted like, and I've gotta tell ya, the path blazed by Robin Williams (and Jim Henson, and the Pythons, and Joel Hodgson, and Ernie Kovacs, and and and...) seemed so much more interesting and appealing, even if I didn't want to be a professional performer myself.

No matter what you chalk his appeal up to - energy, intensity, physicality, warmth, rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness wit - the man was watchable in everything he did, comedic or serious.  Even in his sappiest films, like Patch Adams or Bicentennial Man, movies so treacly you contract type 2 diabetes just by watching them, he's still amazing to watch.  Whatever he's doing on screen, even if it's just clownish shtick with a bedpan on his head, he's the sort of guy you have to watch.  I defy you to take your eyes off of him.  You can't; he wouldn't let you.

This, I think, is another reason I've always appreciated the man.  Show business is full of people who are so desperate to seem cool and aloof.  They want and need the approval of an audience, but downplay that as much as possible.  Robin Williams, on the other hand, seemed pretty okay with admitting he wanted people to like him, and worked to squeeze every conceivable ounce of attention out of the people for whom he performed.  Maybe some folks see that as trying too hard, but I appreciate the honesty of it.

I was sad when I heard he died, angry when I heard it was suicide, and found a dark bit of understanding in it all when I heard he may have had Parkinson's... a person that physical losing control of his body's function?  Yeah, that answers a lot of questions in my mind. 

But no matter the cause and reason, I'm still gutted by his loss, and for the admittedly selfish reason that I wasn't done watching him yet.  I wanted more complex dramatic work, and more gut-busting, play-to-every-seat-in-the-house comedy.  Clearly I'm not alone in this, but that's cold comfort in a time like this.

All my condolences to his family, friends, and my many fellow fans out there.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pretty Sketchy: Moar Batgirl (and a special guest)

Haven't got any sketches of the new Batgirl look, but I have a few of an older persuasion that are worth sharing:

This version of Babs was drawn & colored by Joe Haley and TJ Dort, and I bought it from them at Rhode Island Comic Con 2012.  It was in their portfolio and it caught my eye from well across the aisle thanks to the colors, and I had to have it.

And this one, as you can see, was drawn by Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue during his 2012 Fancy Sketch Drive.  He was drawing all sorts of weird requests then, so I figured Batgirl and Spider-Man geeking out over Doctor Who (which you know they totally would do) would be right up his alley.

Also, I don't go in so much for the shipping, but if I were the sort of person who did, these two might be my OTP despite all of the many creative and legal hurdles that would obviously prevent it, because come on, they'd be perfect for each other.  I can't be the only one who thinks that.  I mean, there has to be at least Tumblr dedicated to this very idea, right?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Batgirl. New Batgirl! NEW BATGIRL!

Art by Babs Tarr; posted without the permission of MTV, but used with love and admiration so hey guys, maybe please don't sue me.  Also, show more videos again. And reruns of Remote Control or Just Say Julie.
As you probably heard if you were anywhere near the comics readin' portions of the inter-ma-nets this week, DC is revamping Batgirl starting with issue #35, with the new creative team of writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher, artist Babs Tarr, and colorist Jordie Bellaire.  It was exactly the sort of comics-related announcement I love... a lot of people were excited, fan art and cosplay plans started popping up almost immediately, all the right people were happy, and all of the right people were angered and let you know it, which made unfollowing them on social media so much easier.  Thanks for the assist, haters!

As you can probably guess, I fall firmly in the "excited for it" camp.  As I've said many times before, so much of the DC Universe has been a joyless, depressing slog since the New 52 reboot began.  Even the books I was enjoying at first soon got dragged down into the doom and gloom, too, and became so un-fun to read that for most of the last year or two, the only DC-published books I've read with any regularity have been the "off brand" digital-first stuff like Batman '66 or Adventures of Superman.  Though there were two New 52 books that lured me back into the pool, recently, and those were Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow and Francis Manapul's Flash.  They were good, clever, and really took advantage of the rebooted DCU to give fresh spins on familiar territory.  I've enjoyed what I've read of them so far, which was especially surprising because I've never been much of a Green Arrow fan, and in the original continuity I was pretty sure that the only interesting thing Barry Allen ever did as the Flash was die (I was always more of a Wally guy).

They gave me some hope that if these books could thrive, even if just for a little while, something else fun could one day bloom from out of the New 52's darkest depths.  And it looks like something finally is, though the fact that it's coming out of the Batman corner of things, which has been not only dour but bogged down in Perpetual Crossover almost since the very beginning, is unexpected.  Getting an upcoming peripheral book like Gotham Academy (also co-written by Fletcher with Becky Cloonan) was surprising enough, but to get something like this starring an established, high-profile member of the Batman Family... you could've knocked me over with a feather.  But I'm happy about it.  I love the sound of the premise, the attitude behind it (some complain this sounds more like Steph Brown than Babs Gordon; I say that's not a bad thing), and especially the costume redesign, which is as functional as it is badass.

I'm more excited for this book than I have been for any DC book in a long time, even though I'm well within the audience for whom the majority of their current books are allegedly written.  It's heartening to see that I'm not alone.

Friday, June 27, 2014

You otter be in pictures. On the internet.

Aren't you tired of cats having the run of the internet?  I sure am.  It's long past time to take the webs of inter back from the cats and letting another cute animal have a go.  Let's turn things over to the otters.

Because memes don't have a "sell by" date.
What's cooler than being cool?  Otters.

You can't tell on the screen, but this little guy's Nimoy is spot-on.

Look, Liam Neeson is going to stop making these some day, and they will need a replacement.
Otters are renowned for their master camouflage techniques.