Even on vacation, I can't escape comics.

Greatest convenience store sign EVER.

(No, I'm not saying where... like I want Disney to sue these people.)


Headed out for parts unknown! See you folks in a week or two.

Surely the basis of some sort of fanfic somewhere...

Here's a weird little Stan Freberg commercial promoting Sunday newspaper comics.

Jeez, Brenda Starr's got quite the attitude there, huh? No one must have told her yet that her movie would never be released.

Doc Bruce Banner, belted by gamma rays, turned into the Hulk, ain't he unglamor-ais?

You know, The Incredible Hulk wasn't that bad. Admittedly I had pretty low expectations going in, due to some weak-looking commercials and the fact that the only Hulk stories I've ever really enjoyed involved doing some pretty un-Hulk-like things (smart Hulk leading the Pantheon, Hulk as Space Spartacus, etc.), but still, this was a pretty entertaining. Good performances all around, a decent (if by-the-numbers) script that hits all the right beats in all the right places while drawing from both the comics and the TV series, and a couple of big, messy fight scenes where things get blowed up real good. Oh, and best of all, like Iron Man, they apply the comic book fandom references with a subtle hand... they're there, but they don't excessively call attention to them. I can dig it.

And it's surprisingly democratic, too. There's no overt references to Ang Lee's painful Hulk from a few years back, but they don't really go out of the way to say it isn't a sequel, either, so it's really up to the individual audience members to decide if this is a continuation or an entirely new animal. A level-headed approach to potentially dicey issue. Nice!

So if you grade Iron Man an A (and I would), The Incredible Hulk pulls a B-, though could probably talk it's way up to a B pretty easily. It's a fun couple of hours at the movies.

Getting Hooked Part 5: The Inexorable March of Comics

The book(s): March of Comics, various and sundry issues.
Received at: Standard Shoes, Bangor, ME

The thing I miss most about the comics of my childhood isn't any one particular title, creator, or company (though I do miss plenty of all those things), but the availability. Comic books weren't yet ghettoized into direct market shops, they were everywhere. Corner stores, supermarkets, department stores, book shops... hell, March of Comics here? I used to get that at the shoe store, and most of the time, I wasn't even getting shoes!

See, March of Comics was a give-away book produced by the folks at Western Publishing that made use of the vast array of material produced throughout the history of Dell / Gold Key / Whitman. You can read more about the book's history here (standard caveat about Wikipedia accuracy applies, though this one seems legit at the moment), and every issue would feature a different licensed character. I guess back in the day, it was a full-sized comic book, but by the time I came along, it was a lot smaller, maybe a third the size of a normal comic (about the same dimensions that the old monthly HBO Guide magazine was in the 80s, if you remember that).

Anyway, as I said, the local shoe store used to carry these for the kids who'd come in with their parents, and my parents were friends with the manager, Paul. So any trip to the mall would end up with them stopping in to say hi to Paul, and at some point in the conversation, Paul would always ask, "Hey, Billy, would you like a book?" And of course I'd answer yes, because even at the age of 3 or 4, I knew that free stuff was always awesome.

The books themselves? I honestly don't remember a lot about them specifically, though I'm pretty sure I had the three pictured above, among plenty of others. I issues featuring these characters, at the very least. I recall a Tweety and Sylvester story where the pair was visited by Sylvester's Uncle Succotash, some sort of big game hunter who was the source of Sylvester's famous exclamation of "Sufferin' Succotash!" The Underdog story I remember had something to do with cowboys, and I remember the excuse Shoeshine Boy made to slip off to change into Underdog was that he lost his spur (and at the time, I had no idea at all what a spur was). And I can remember a Pink Panther story where he's helping to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and keeps getting paint in his eye, though that may have been from a different comic altogether.

I know, it sounds like these things didn't leave much of an impression, and no, it's not that they were so mindblowingly awesome that my mind couldn't contain the memories of them without exploding. They were pretty run of the mill Gold Key stories. I knew even then not to expect a whole lot out of any of them. I still have pretty fond memories of them just the same. Maybe it's because they were just the right dimensions for pre-school-sized hands, because they were free, or because it was hard to believe you could get something as awesome as a comic book at one of the most boring places in the entire mall.

Actually, I suspect that last one has a lot to do with it. Seriously, folks... if you're under the age of, oh, say 25, you might not have ever seen it yourself, but trust me, comic books were damn near EVERYWHERE once upon a time ago. And that's why I'm so happy to see such an explosion of manga, original graphic novels, and trade paperback collections in bookstores these days. If you put these things back where your average person is actually going to see them, I can't help but think readership will slowly climb back up again.

Of course, throwing some giveaways out there like March of Comics can't hurt, either.

Quasi-interesting side note: Even when allowed to rummage through the treasure chest at the store, I'd always go for the comic over any of the little toys I could have picked. Nerdhood reared its messy-haired head at a pretty early age in my house.

Top Five Four Sunday - Unsung Heroines

For lack of a better topic today, here are my Top 4 Female Comics Characters Who Never Get Mentioned When People Discuss Their Favorite Female Comics Characters.

#4. Kinetix - While the Legion of Super-Heroes has never had a shortage of uniquely misguided characters in any of it's iterations, Zoe here might be top of the heap in that regard (no small feat). Like any good super villain, Kinetix's entire career was based upon the acquisition of as much power as she could possibly acquire. Except she was a super hero, and she genuinely wanted to use that power to help people, not conquer them, which raises the question do good intentions justify questionable actions?

#3. Tanner Clark - Aunt of Amelia McBride, title character of Amelia Rules!, and a mostly retired indie rock star. After Amelia's parents divorced, she opened her home to Amelia and her mom until they could get on their feet. She puts up with Amelia's crazy friends, always has a situation-specific song lyric to quote in times of trouble, and is pretty much the only adult in Amelia's life who gives it to her straight. In other words, Tanner is the coolest grown-up ever.

#2. Kim Pine - Drummer for Sex Bob-omb, the coolest band in all of comicdom. Not only Scott Pilgrim's friend and frequent confidante, but also his high school girlfriend, so you have to figure her patience levels are legendary. But at the same time, she doesn't take shit from anyone, especially Scott, and in the last book, famously told Scott she'd punch his life in the face if his life actually had a face. She's the quiet, reserved presence in the background of a lot of scenes, but I've had a strong feeling since Book 1 that she's going to be Very Important by the time the Scott Pilgrim series ends. Or maybe I'm just hoping that because she's really cool.

#1. Loo Lay Th'eng - Loo, the main character from Paul Sizer's Little White Mouse, isn't just awesome because she's super brilliant, incredibly resourceful, or determined to succeed in the face of astounding adversity. Though all of those things help, of course. But she spends months trapped as the only living person on a mining station with only two small robots, a larger android containing the programmed memory of her dead sister, and the ghost of the station's architect to keep her company, and she doesn't let that stop her from having a good time. A situation that would crush most folks' spirits, and she makes a game out of stuff like avoiding the security drones that would kill her on sight. What a fabulously fun and complex young woman Loo is.

Pretty Sketchy - Rhapsody in Blue (Beetle)

Here's the newest addition to the Trusty Plinko Stick galleries, the new Blue Beetle as drawn by Matthew Petz of Monster Island Media (the black edges and corners are due to my scanner, which is just a shade to small to scan a 9" x 12" drawing very well). I usually don't put these up as soon as I get them, but A.) it's really awesome; and B.) Matt has a comic called "Psychopath: A Love Story" competing in the June competition over at Zuda Comics, so I figured he could use the press.

Sketch commissioned through the Comic Geek Speak forums.

The funniest thing I have read on the internet in some time.

Even in the midst of talking about a game I have no interest in whatsoever, Tycho and Gabe prove once again that they get it.

The Dig List - 6/11/08

Short (and largely untimely) reactions to stuff I've read lately.

Tonoharu Vol. 1 by Lars Martinson - The story of a young guy spending a year teaching English in Japan, it certainly captures the feeling of being alone in a strange culture very well. It doesn't do much else, though, since nothing really happens. At all. This is only Part One, and it's sort of implied that something will happen to make this, you know, an actual story somewhere down the line, but that story doesn't really get started here, and in fact, there's a strong argument to be made that it doesn't even leave the driveway. But for what little Martinson does in this book, he does it well. And the art is nice. So there's that. Nothing worth buying, but for a library read, it's alright.

Gnome - Dave Dwonch's one-shot has a great premise - gnomes were once the guardians of the earth, but a spell turned them into the lawn statues we know today - and he takes it to an unusual (well, more unusual) place, as the last surviving true gnome must train a young loner in 1956 to defeat the drooling Lovecrafty horror in the basement of the house he inherited from his weird uncle. The weird mishmash of archetypes and imagery makes for a very fun read, but I think the real star here is the background art, which looks to be old photographs that Dwonch has colored over, giving us cartoony-looking people having their adventures in a realistic by slightly surreal setting, giving us yet another imagery smorgasbord to take in. In short, it's one of the better art house B movies you'll read this year.

Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition Vol. 2 - More great British espionage storytelling from Greg Rucka and company. What makes this series work for me is that Rucka doesn't pull many punches in showing the world these characters inhabit: this is dirty and extremely dangerous work that leaves already damaged people even more shattered at the end of the day, if it doesn't outright kill them (and in this volume, it frequently does). The artwork from Jason Alexander, Carla Speed McNeil, and Mike Hawthorne may be too cartoony for some (the one frequent complaint I ever see about this book), but as I said with volume 1, I think it actually helps me focus on the story better, since I'm never spending a lot of time wondering just how accurate everything is depicted, or wondering what magazine model the artist traced to get a particular shot. It does sometimes make characters hard to identify from story to story, though. The main character, Tara Chace, is generally easy to find since she's the blonde woman, but the looks of the men she works with tend can vary greatly from artist to artist, so the first issue or so of any arc generally requires a re-learning process for me. But that's my only complaint, because otherwise, this is Great Comics, no question.

Best. Tourism commercial. Ever.

Ridiculously Hot Sunday YouTube Blogging - Doctor in Distress

As all star celebrity charity singles go, Band Aid or USA for Africa this ain't:

Still, silly fun.

Getting Hooked Part 4: Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice...

The book: Super Friends #37
Bought at: Fairmount Market, Bangor, ME

As I've said, I was occasionally confused that the comics I had as a kid never quite resembled the movies and TV shows that were my first exposure to the characters. It was never enough to dissuade me, but still, there was a fair bit of headscratching involved just the same.

So finding a comic book that exactly resembled one of my favorite shows kind of blew my mind.

Yup, all of the core members of the Super Friends were represented here, even the Wonder Twins, and though there were a few minor cosmetic differences - Wonder Woman lacks her Alex Toth hair helmet, for instance - everything fit. It was the cartoon on paper, Saturday morning any time of the week you liked. What kid wouldn't dig that?

As you can guess from the cover, the story deals with hotpants-ed Supergirl feeling jealous over the Super Friends. See, she's chaperoning some kids in her identity of Linda Danvers, and they're all just wild about the Action for Children's Television-approved reworking of the JLA. And fittingly, each member of the group has a particular favorite Super Friend (though the Wonder Twins have to share a fan), so they all get a little individual face time with their idols while Supergirl fumes.

I don't remember much more than that, but the Weather Wizard shows up, and I'm reasonably positive that the kids eventually confirm they love Supergirl, too, but that since she's from their hometown, they get to see her every day, whereas the seeing Super Friends is like a treat. That's how they would've handled it on the show, anyway, just before a PSA where Wonder Woman gives us homework tips and a bit where the Wonder Twins answer a Teen TroubAlert call about kids joyriding or something.

Looking back, I think this is the first Supergirl story I ever read, though I'm pretty sure I was aware of her before this. It certainly set the stage for nearly every other story starring the Pre-Crisis Supergirl, though - not very good, but still kind of fun, and with cute art. I'm sure Ramona Fradon's frankly adorable depiction of the Girl of Steel here is what led to my eventual appreciation of Bob Oksner's version in later years. This probably also taught me to appreciate women in tiny shorts, too (Hello people finding this through Google!), though I can probably chalk that up to Daisy Duke and Joy from The Bugaloos as well.

Quasi-interesting side note: This issue features a back-up story with Irish superhero Jack O'Lantern. I absolutely loved this story, because I remember my mom reading this with me and her telling me that my family was from Ireland, and that I should be proud to have my ancestry honored with my very own superhero. Never mind that he wasn't a particularly *good* superhero - the whole set-up is Darby O'Gill meets Green Lantern, kind of - but still, it was something.

Relive the humiliation in your own living room!

So I'm not sure how I feel about Wii Fit.

On the one hand, I'm exactly the sort of guy who could use something like this. I'm no danger to shipping or anything, but I'm not in great shape, either, and I hate the very idea of going to the gym because of A.) my deep-seeded hatred of gym people, and B.) my deep-seeded hatred of doing anything remotely athletic in the presence of other humans (I never claimed to not have issues, people). So in theory, this allows me the opportunity to help alter my sad state of fitness through the miracle of Hermitcise. And thankfully, some of the games are quite fun, making unique use of the Wii Balance Board and the additional (and unusual) efforts needed to play them.

But of course, there's a problem. And it's not the Wii Fit's over-reliance on Body Mass Index (BMI), which is apparently leading it to call more than a few athletic, well-muscled people overweight despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. It's more of an attitude thing.

And not even mine, necessarily... it's Wii Fit's. The passive-aggressive chiding of the sim instructors. The Eddie Haskell-esque complimentary insults of the anthropomorphic Balance Board that shows up sometimes. The pixie-ish voice that sometimes says "Oh, my"
when you step onto the balance board. The utter despair your Mii sinks into when you rank poorly. It's all a bit much. They might as well have called it "Gym Class in a Box," because that's sure how it feels sometimes. And that's the sort of bullshit I've been happy to avoid since I graduated high school, thanks so much.

I'll keep using it for now - mostly out of guilt and the desire to get my money's worth out of the thing - but honestly, an aerial shot of my Mii sobbing alone in the middle of a soccer field doesn't exactly inspire me to do better next time. It just makes me want to return the thing to the store and exchange it for a different game I can play while sitting on my ass with the other slobs.

Pretty Sketchy - One for the Kiddo

A very Superfriends / Adam West sort of take on Batman, drawn for my son Liam by Andrew Charipar and picked up for me at this year's New York Comic Con by my friend Dan (since everyone in my house spent the month of April sicker than hell and we couldn't go ourselves). I've been a fan of Drew's for awhile, and I loved the Mary Marvel he had drawn for me at last year's NYCC, so I jumped at the chance for more when he posted a sketch pre-order thread over on the Comic Geek Speak forums. Though he claims to have a hard time with Batman, he turned out exactly the sort of piece for Liam I wanted. And better still, Liam just *loves* it, and it's framed & hung in a place of honor on his bedroom wall.

Drew also did a fantastic sketch of my favorite Marvel Team-Up villain, the White Rabbit, for me, but that'll have to wait for a future Pretty Sketchy installment.

The Dig List: 6/1/08

Short (I hope) reactions of stuff I've read lately, some of it current, most of it not.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 559 & 560 - Haven't been reading the Brand New Day Spidey (not out of boycott, but just because I don't usually read ASM to begin with), but I'd draw a Marcos Martin-illustrated comic about tile flooring, so of course I'll buy his Spider-Man work. And his "Ditko-via-Kirby in watercolors" style doesn't disappoint at all here, even when retreading an idea from that first Morrison/Kubert Batman issue a year or two back (a fight making creative use of a comic-themed pop art exhibit). Just gorgeous work, full of all the right energy and pacing. The story itself in these issues? Well, I enjoyed all the actual Spider-Man content, particularly the parkour chase with Screwball in 559 and the creepy powers and personality of stalkery Paper Doll in 560, but all the bits with plain ol' Peter Parker sort of confirm my fears that he'd be written more like the Amazing Spider-Man-Child. Sure, Pete's the original hard-luck hero, the Charlie Brown of the Marvel Universe, but this dude here is just a loser. So I'm disappointed with the direction that Dan Slott and Marvel editorial are taking here, but I'm in for #561 since it's another Martin issue.

The Original Black Cat #s 1 & 2 - I've heard a lot about this old Harvey book from back in the day, mostly about how great the Lee Elias artwork was, so I was happy to get my hands on these reprints, and happier still to find everything was as good as advertised. Elias' style reminded me somewhat of Milton Canniff, so for a book that features a beautiful heroine having adventures wherever her career as a movie star brings her, that's pretty much a perfect fit. And while cheesecakey - I mean, Black Cat's costume is basically a bathing suit, a mask, and some pirate boots... hard to get more cheesecake than that - it's never too over-the-top, and the Black Cat is generally too busy kicking ass and taking names to get tied up by the villains all the time, anyway. She could've given Wonder Woman some pointers! Great stuff, and I plan to track down more.

Captain America: Red Menace Vol. 1 - I'm late to Ed Brubaker's Captain America party, so I'm probably the last comics guy around to realize this, but Brube's going all Starman with this book - taking disparate scraps of continuity surrounding a loose family of characters and weaving them into one giant story about a legacy - isn't he? And from what I've read so far, he's doing it well. I think the secret of his success is that while he respects the past, he's using it as a jumping off point for new ideas and reworking old ideas to fit, like James Robinson did with Starman, as opposed to obsessing over tiny details of the past like Roy Thomas or Geoff Johns. I'm hoping that he's eventually able to work in some of the crazier 70s Kirby bits like the Madbomb or Mr. Buda. Anyway, yeah, this volume continues to bring the good, furthering the story of Cap's search for Bucky and Crossbones' unfortunately successful attempts to de-deprogram Sin, the Red Skull's daughter, but at three regular issues and an Anniversary Special, it's a bit slight. But said Anniversary Special is at least double-sized, and has Marcos Martin artwork in it, too, so that helps.