Monday, February 19, 2018

Review: Lego DC Superheroes: The Flash Movie

Review: Lego DC Superheroes: The Flash Movie

Welcome back to Comics And… I’m posting again (because I’m procrastinating in studying for my class).

Image result for lego the flash movie
Story 4.5/5 stars
Animation: 4/5 stars (I mean, fine for a Lego movie)
Recommended age: All ages!!!

My son loves Legos. Probably because Legos are awesome. He and I share a love of superhero stories. Combined this results in watching a lot of Lego superhero themed stuff. We aren’t much of a Marvel family (although Lego Loki is a lot of fun) so he and I were pretty excited to watch the new(ish) Lego DC movie, The Flash.

In the past a majority of the Lego DC world has focused on Batman and the Bat-family and then slowly expanded into the Justice League. They even had appearances by the Legion in previous movies. Flash has not gotten much attention until now. Basically, they pull a lot of Flash’s personality from the Animated Series (even though Lego uses Barry, not Wally) but considering the kid-friendly focus it makes sense to have more of a happy and beloved Flash.

First, the good.

Pretty much everything. It was a cute story that starts off with a time loop scenario. Often time loops can be tedious and annoying but Lego keeps it short and even humorous.

The movie starts with the Atom being shown around JL headquarters as a prospective member. We get an appearance from both Ace the Bathound and Krypto. The Atom quickly dubs them (sarcastically) “superpets” which makes me enjoy this movie even more. Superpets are one of the most absurd concepts in the comic book realm and I always appreciate a cameo or two. As a bonus my son also loves the superpets (especially Ace).

The overall plot is decent. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece of storytelling here but it’s an easy to follow story despite time travel. The main bad guy is, of course, Reverse Flash, and Barry keeps running faster and faster to try and catch him allowing Reverse Flash to dump him in a time loop.
The part that was really well done with the time loop was how Barry keeps wrapping up all the tasks he had on the first time through the loop to the point where he delivers a bad guy to the JL before any crime was attempted.

Thankfully the writers only use the time loop as a starting point. The second part of the movie is split into 3 main stories – the Atom being stuck in his small mode, the JL trying to figure out what the Reverse Flash is up to, and Barry trying to tap back into the speed force.

Image result for lego the flash movie ace

My absolute favorite moment was Ch’p (or B’dg as I can’t tell them apart and missed the name when they said it – the Squirrel Green Lantern) showing up to help and being lumped in with the other superpets.

Now, the bad

Nothing was actually bad. All the Lego stuff has pretty obvious morals embedded into their stories which can get tiresome for an adult but are important for all the kids watching (this movie was stuff like take the time to slow down and have a plan). All the Lego media my son and I watch tends to have lessons like never give up, and always stand by your friends. This stuff gets pretty hammered in but for the elementary crowd its fairly appropriate.

Of course, Lego is trying to sell their products so they always have fancy new stuff you can buy in some kit being used for their movies. If your kids are bad about that kind of thing you may want to be warned ahead of time that there are absolutely several new DC Lego sets based on this movie (I don’t have this issue, but I know some parents like to know about all the product promotion).

Finally, Zantanna was pretty awful in this movie. Z is such a cool character and she was pretty much a throwaway in this story and written completely out of context. It was a weird call and strangely involved a musical number.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this movie for those of you with kids or those of you who are young at heart. I know my son and I will end up watching it again.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Trinity by Matt Wagner

Welcome back to Comics And… It been a long time since I wrote anything about comic books and a lot has changed for me since I last reviewed a book. My taste in reading material has changed as I’ve grown older, had a child, and transitioned from a high school teacher to an archaeology graduate student. My first review on this side of my life is not a glowing one and has even inspired me to re-read an old favorite to make sure I hadn’t been forming my expectations of the creator’s work from nostalgia. Let’s dive in!

Image result for wagner trinity

Review: Trinity by Matt Wagner 

Basic breakdown:

Story 1/5 stars
Art 3.5/5 stars
Recommended age: high school and up

This review deserves a little bit of background before I get into too much detail as my impressions have been somewhat colored by circumstance. Jim (my Dad) gave me this book years ago and I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. I had gone to see the recent Justice League movie with my husband and son and was so happy with how much fun my son had watching it that I decided to peruse my bookshelf for a hopefully similar story. I saw the Trinity book, saw that my old favorite (from Mage) had written and illustrated the story, and briefly flipped through to make sure it was 5-year-old appropriate. At a glance it seemed fine so my son and I sat down to begin reading.
The story, for those who haven’t read it, is meant to take place early in Batman and Superman’s careers. It is also the first time Wonder Woman interacts with either Superman or Batman.

First, the good.

Matt Wagner’s art has improved since his Mage days. I still enjoy the sharp contrasts and the simple line work. While Wagner isn’t my favorite artist he gets the job done. His art enhances the story (outside of a few awkward panels) and he has a talent for conveying meaning without words. The other good point was Superman. Superman is written true to character and has a couple of humorous moments.

Now, the bad (and awful)

Okay, I could easily poke holes in the plot (melodramatic, doesn’t make much practical sense, jumps around oddly) but you can easily tear most arch-villain plots to shreds. I believe in relaxing and enjoying my comics and while the plot could have been improved, I can let it slide.
The characters, with the exception of Superman, were terrible.

Batman – yes, Batman is dark and brooding, especially in contrast with Superman. However, Batman is still supposed to be a hero. Not only has this version of Batman been spending too much time in the Frank Miller universe, he also has a scene with Wonder Woman that is disgusting. The best I could do was use it as a teaching moment and explain to my son that Batman deserved to get hit in the face by WW after forcibly kissing her (after running across her bathing in a stream…). I had a lovely time using one of my son’s heroes as an example of what he should never do to someone. Matt Wagner vaguely states Batman was overcome by the “island’s enchantment” and then fails to explain what that is. Furthermore, this in no way contributes to the actual plot or even to character development.
Wonder Woman – She has a few decent moments but spends a majority of the story chained up, helpless, sexually harassed, and fawning over Superman. Punching Batman in the face was one of her better moments.

Ras Al Ghul – What the heck Wagner?!? I had to skip over or modify pretty much every work of Ras’ mouth when he’s around Wonder Woman. At first, I thought I was maybe reading too much into it: “Ubu, incapacitate this… colorful young woman. Have her bound and brought to my chambers. She should provide several hours of amusement…” I mean maybe he’s just a sadistic torturer rather than a rapist? Which isn’t better really, but I have never seen anyone portray Ras as a rapist before. Then later in the story WW herself sums up a later speech of his, “He plans the death of millions alongside my rape, smiling all the while.” I just skipped/altered a lot of these lines while reading to my kid. Ras was always at least a bit redeemable because of his love for his own daughter and deceased wife. Previous versions of Ras have always treated women with respect (at least the stories I grew up reading). Much of Ras’ appeal as a villain (while written by anyone else) was that his message was compelling. He is not compelling as poorly written sexual predator.

After enduring this book, I decided to re-read Mage. I was worried that I had a skewed memory of Mage as an awesome book with a pretty amazing teenage girl as a major character. Had Wagner always written women into the same ways he handled WW? To my great relief the answer was no. Edsel was as cool as I remember her. She was never meant to be a long-lasting character of course (and I’m sure the Alex in the fridge crowd would argue she was used as a plot device – but quite frankly all the characters in Mage are just plot devices – pawns on a chess board). I always loved Edsel and her glowing baseball bat (I always liked her way more than the main character) and I am glad I can still enjoy Mage as a fun comic book.

Image result for mage edsel

Perhaps it would be better if Wagner stuck to his own creations. He seems to do better with them.

Friday, February 02, 2018

The Return of Comics And….

Like bands of old getting back together to go on tour once again Comics And… is making its dramatic return. And like those bands of old the hair maybe grayer and the voices not as rich as they used to be, but the money is just too good to pass up. Wait a minute no one is paying us and it is probably only me who is grayer (more white) then before.

In the back of my mind I have had a bunch of things to say about current comic books and the associated movies and TV shows. At the same time I have become more enamored of art and even gotten into doing commission pieces. Finally the nostalgia bug has hit me and I find I read old comic collections as much as the new stuff. Worse I have gotten into buying some older books because it is not just the story and art but the ads that I actually enjoy.

With all of that as along preamble the point of this brief article is to announce that we are back but on a limited basis. Our goal is to post once a week at least and try and do the post on a Sunday. Gwen, Lee, Matthew, Thomm and myself will post whatever is on our minds. And if the “owner” of that week want to do multiple post he is free to do so. We understood that an old school blog is somewhat passé, but we are doing this for our own amusement and not looking to monetize it. So if you find us please share and spread the word if you enjoy what we have to say. We are placing no restrictions of what someone is posting so be aware this can be an opinionated group.

What I hope to cover from my viewpoint over time is commission artwork, original comic art, golden/silver age artists I have grown to love, new comics, old comics and the vanishing inker. I hope we find our old fans and maybe generate some new, but in the end it is as much about just shooting an arrow into the air and see where it lands. Hopefully not putting out someone’s eye.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Commemorating 40 Years of Collecting Comics -- 1977 with a nod to 2017 in 2 pieces by Fred Hembeck

The Alarm sang about the "Spirit of 76", but Fred Hembeck has just delineated the Spirit of 1977!  You see, that was the year in the late Winter/early Spring that I started to collect comics.  This commission has a lengthy history to it, but I won't go into those details here.  Needless to say it was worth the wait and the end product is simply STUNNING!!!  I AM SO PLEASED!  I LOVE IT!!!  And am eager to get these framed.  But wait there's more...

To sweeten the package, which arrived today, even more, Fred included a whole slew of Bonus Materials depicted below:

Including one of his lightning bolt signature personal notes:

It was so cool to open the package, turning over each of the multitude of cover REDO copies until finally getting "the center of the tootsie pop" and seeing the finished pieces.  Even better, Fred included his preliminaries!  I'll show those below, but first I'm going to reprint my final concept pitch to Fred back in April.  I spent a long bus ride to NYC coming up with these:

Hi Fred!

I think I've finally come up with some new ideas that will hopefully line up with what you want to do.  Sorry for the delay, but I was back home in Richmond the middle part of last week to celebrate Easter with my mother and attend the sunrise service at the cemetery where my Daddy is buried.  It was a great trip that started off with us seeing the Alex Ross exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Out of our way, but definitely worth it.

Well, today I went on the annual art field trip with Helen to NYC.  I've been going consecutively for several years, first with Charlotte, then Eric, and then Helen, sometimes doubling up.  There were few highlights this year:  We walked the High Line, very cool, and I found your drawing on the cover of Comic Shop News at Forbidden Planet on Broadway!  I like walking around NYC, but 10-miles was a bit too much with no more real destinations left.  We were originally going to take the subway to Brooklyn and walk the bridge into town then make our way back to the MOMA, but the school policy is not to take public transportation.  Worst of all, Helen ditched me on the bus, so I spent the 4 hour trip (each way) there and back, alone.  Even when we were walking around I was primarily a fourth wheel and I spent an hour and half watching the backpacks while they toured the MOMA and I had to hold my bladder from the large ice coffee I foolishly drank.  However, I made good use of the bus time thinking about your commissions.  So, here goes:

Note 1: All characters should appear in their 1977 comic book costumes [references provided].
Note 2: The idea is to have the two pieces share some parallelism, same number of characters, generally the same mix of heroes (male & female) and villain, similar themes.  You'll understand that soon.  I'll give some suggestions on how characters might be paired up or sequenced, but YOU CAN COMPOSE IT HOWEVER YOU FEEL BEST.  I will likely frame these together, please keep that in mind (side by side or on top of each other).
Note 3: The theme/gag requires one word balloon and one through balloon each.  I provide some suggested language, which you may tweak as needed. we go:

Picture One -- TV theme:  Arnim Zola being a walking TV himself is talking/fighting to/the heroes that appeared in 1977 and 2017 TV shows.

Villain: Arnim Zola [Captain America #209] -- Word balloon: "Take it from ME.  I KNOW the changes you have to go thru to be on TV."

Heroes, listed in likely pairs:

1. Supergirl [Super-Team Family #11]
2. Flash [Flash #250]

3. Daredevil [Daredevil #147/148]
4. Iron Fist [Iron Fist #13]

5. Hulk [Incredible Hulk #213]
6. Isis [Isis #4] -- Thought balloon: "Not me, I was on TV FIRST".

7. Logan 5 [Logan's Run #6 cover]
8. Jessica 6 [Logan's Run #6 cover] -- there should be some loving physical contact with these two.

Gag:  TV always changes characters, such as the Logan's Run movie people are very different from their TV counterparts.  Different costumes, names (David Banner), etc.  So, while you don't have to draw any of the TV versions, we're slyly referencing them.  And for Isis, she's exactly the same as her TV version.  Clear enough?

Alternative sequencing idea (latest to oldest TV appearance): Iron Fist, Supergirl, Daredevil, Flash, Hulk, Logan & Jessica, Isis

Picture Two -- Movie theme: Reed Richards as the Molecule Man is fighting the 1977 active/reserve Avengers members.

Villain: Reed Richards as the Molecule Man with plenty of Kirby Krackle [Fantastic Four #188] -- Word balloon: "I'm going to bend reality and TURN you ALL into MOVIE characters!"

Heroes, listed in likely pairs:

1. Yellow Jacket [Marvel Team-Up #59 -- cool Byrne version with the wings same height as his head]
2. Wasp [Avengers #161 - sexy purple outfit with holes (full height no wings), that she made to get Hanks attention,who was being controlled by Ultron -- I had a whole Ultron family theme idea at one time today]

3. Captain America [Captain America #209]
4. Iron Man [Iron Man #100]

5. Vision [Avengers #160]
6. Wonder Man [Avengers #160] -- Thought balloon: "Not Me, I'm already planning to be a Movie Star.  Just need some new shades and a jacket..."

7. Scarlet Witch [Avengers #160]
8. Black Widow [Avengers #163]

Gag: All of these characters are now in the movies, except for Wonder Man, who actually WAS in the movies in the comics.  And the Molecule Man could actually accomplish this.

Alternative sequencing idea (conflict/relationship groups): Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, Yellow Jacket & Wasp, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man.  Scarlet Witch could be eyeing Wonder Man with the jealous Vision watching. Cap's still in the friend-zone with Natasha.

Substitutions for Picture Two:  I think the above should work fine, but I'd be willing to substitute Black Widow and Scarlet Witch for any of the following:

A. Black Panther
B. Beast
C. Spider-Man
D. Doctor Strange
E. Johnny Storm -- this would be a funny play on how Chris Evans plays both Torch and Cap (one ridiculous and one straight)

Basically, the only characters that have special costume versions are Wasp & Wonder Man -- everything else should be standard for that time frame.

I hope this is straightforward enough and is something you can now enjoy doing.

Please let me know if you have any questions or reservations.  If you want to reject the idea, I'll try some of the other concepts.  I'M NOT GOING TO GIVE UP! : )

I had to leave Warlord and Mariah on the cutting floor (and tons of others), but I did manage to capture key characters from Logan's Run #6, Avengers #160, and Marvel Team-Up #59 -- all REDOs I had on my list at one time.

This should make a fitting 40th anniversary of collecting comics tribute!!!

Thank you so much!


And now here are the prelims:

TV theme

Movie theme

Here are some of my previous Hembeck posts:

Looks like I didn't post my last REDO, so here it is below:

I got this one in person when I met Fred at the 2014 Baltimore Comic-Con.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Creator Problem in Comic Books

By all accounts the Daredevil Netflix Series is well done. I personally have not seen anything more than clips and have read up a little on the series. It seems to be drawing a ton of inspiration from the Frank Miller run on the book, which is the best work ever done on the character. All of this leads up to the question – Who is the creator of Daredevil?

This has been tons of debate regarding who created what and the debate has gotten even more heated over the years. As DC and Marvel comics have ranked in billions of dollars from the movies, cartoons, clothing and the rest the stakes have become enormous. Jack Kirby’s family achieved a settlement reportedly worth in the tens of millions to drop the case and not push it into the Supreme Court. I’m sure this was because Disney was about to shit themselves thinking ownership for hugely profitable creations could be up for grabs. Imagine the court saying the rights for those characters was never perfected.

I personally have always struggled with this issue. I often wonder what the act of creation is. Is the creator just the person with a name and a basic idea or is the creator the one who makes it work. Should the creator participate in the exploitation of the character? If yes to what degree, because the Guardians of the Galaxy was never that cool in comics.

I decided on Daredevil as a character to examine. I believe Daredevil is a little easier to dissect then many other characters. I’m going to ignore the fact that there was a Golden Age hero named Daredevil. A small tangent or question I have is the idea that Marvel has copyrighted a term as a name. It seems like bullshit, but I’m sure Disney would sue my ass if I published a Daredevil comic about a base jumper as copyright infringement. I need to try and avoid all the tangents.

Okay onto Matt (Daredevil) Murdock. Issue number one of Daredevil was illustrated by Bill Everett. Now Stan Lee will tell you DD was all his idea and Bill just was along to help illustrate the book. Bill Everett is also the sole creator of Sub Mariner and was one hell of a golden age creator and a brilliant artist. Bill was sadly an alcoholic and probably fighting depression. He died when he was only 55 years old. The stories about who did what on Daredevil number one as nebulous at best. Considering what Stan called the Marvel method I have to assume Stan gave Bill a rough outline, Kirby may have done some base design work and the rest was probably Bill Everett. The core of Daredevil’s origin could possibly be Bill’s ideas. My guess is not even Bill would remember correctly if alive. All of these books which we now look back on with an almost reverence were being produced by men trying to make a buck and often had no idea what tomorrow may bring. Who remembers business meetings when you are in you 30 or 40 plus years old? The point is that Daredevil was a joint effort from the jump.

Next up is Wally Wood. Sadly Wally was also an alcoholic and suffered from depression. He was also one of the top talents in the field. Wally if he had been in the right place may have been the King, as opposed to Jack Kirby. He is one of the top five artist of all time (in my opinion) and was a creative force. Again since this was the Marvel method a lot of people say Wood did the bulk of the writing with the issues he was involved in. As Wally Wood committed suicide years ago his version of events can no longer be known. I’m sure there are arguments as to who did what. Without a doubt he redesigned DD’s costume with issue #7 and it is the same costume he wears 50 years later. Wally is also credited by some with re-defining DD’s radar sense, which is a key element in allowing a blind man to be a super hero. Heck in issue #10 Wally gets writer credit for the whole issue.

After Wally left the book I would argue the series languished as a low level Marvel book that survived because there was not much else out on the shelfs. Over the years the more I tried to pick up and read any DD issues after Wally left the more I found them to be marginal at best.
At this point it is questionable if any TV, movie company would have picked up this character. There is a good chance that if something other book had caught on DD would have been cancelled. Matt would have been a trivia question. That all changed when Frank Miller took over years later.

Frank changes Daredevil in many ways. He adds back story to Daredevil, giving us Electra. He adds a major villain to story with Bullseye. He adds a nemesis more powerful then Daredevil by stealing Kingpin from Spider-Man. He adds pathos with the story of Matt’s mother. He adds a cool mentor with Stick. Along with David Mazzucchelli he gives us one of the top ten stories of all time with Daredevil Born Again. Frank’s stamp on the character is so strong that essentially ever since Frank left every writer since have all been doing riffs on the character. No one has surpassed what Frank did and it many ways Frank wrote such a definitive version of the character it could have ended with the end of Born Again.

This is the Daredevil that inspired the horrendous DD movie and Electra spin off. The movies had no clue how to do super hero movies at that time. From what I have seen this is the DD that Netflix is using as their template. This is the DD that has everyone wanting to see the show and wanting to know about the character.

So “Who created Daredevil”?

Is it Stan Lee – who stole a name from the Golden Age and spewed out some ideas to Bill Everett?

Is it Jack Kirby who is credited with some basic design work?

Is it Bill Everett for perhaps the idea of who Matt is and his origin?

Is it Wally Wood for doing some strong redesign and redefining of the character that made him more viable?

Is it Frank Miller who took what was a somewhat vanilla character and turned him into one of the most exciting and compelling characters in comics?

That for me is the creator problem in comics. Almost every corporate character owes their existence to multiple people. Batman would not have survived for 70 years as the version created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Heck it was very earlier on that Jerry Robinson added tons to Batman. O’Neil and Adams added plenty, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, Morrison and Quietly and now Snyder and Capullo have all added to Batman for good and ill. The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Superman, Green Lantern and the list goes on and on. All owe their existence to a multitude of creators. Each bringing in ideas and elements to the characters.

So again what is creation? Is it the idea, is it the execution or is it the building of the character?
Who deserves the rewards from the financial gain? Long ago the agreements were not rock solid and no one was thinking about the dollars that may come. Heck I think it was never envisioned that the rights for something were to remain in perpetuity with anyone person or company. Still the company is taking the financial risk. I’m guessing no Fantastic Four creator is calling up Fox offering to help pay off that current disaster. When the movie pours in almost every person wants a piece of the pie. I’m glad that the Kirby family finally got rewarded, but I’d like to see that largesse spread around even more. Even if it is nothing more than cutting a bonus check to someone when it make millions of dollars. It feels unfair then Robert Downey Jr. makes $84 million for being Iron Man when the various creators got nothing.

See I always wander off on tangents but the creator issue is fascinating to me and has some many levels.

No answers to my little missive, just questions.