Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: 1983 DC Sampler #1

Mike's Amazing World of Comics is an excellent resource for four-color knowledge, and the primary facilitator of this column. However, it is not infallible, and failed to list one of the more important comics of my early reading days. I believe that I found a copy of DC Sampler #1 at a flea market booth that was the closest I would get to a comic shop for years. It was a giveaway, so the price was right, but it technically wasn't a comic. No normal person could make the distinction, since the proportions were correct and its pages were filled with super-shenanigans involving hand-lettered text. According to Mike, it came out on June 30, 1983, but there's no telling how long it took to find its way to me. It was probably one of the single most important comics I've ever owned, since it was my first exposure to the whole of the DC Universe at the specific point in time when I was making the transition into devoted comic collecting. I stopped updating this column because I felt I could not go further without looking at the book, but of course I can't seem to find my copy anywhere. Frustrated, I've decided to wing it with hazy memories and internet resource, just like pretty much every other Résumé post I've done so far.

Ed Hannigan isn't revered enough for his streak of unforgettable Bronze Age covers. Somewhere around the house I have a benefit comic collecting a bunch of them (unfortunately only Marvel ones,) and you can spend an afternoon trying to recall how many of them have been blatantly swiped in the years since. Despite the number of characters and density of alien technology on display, the cover feels spacious and inviting, as opposed to cramped and discordant like entirely too many seen on : The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. This first Sampler featured mostly new art created just for this project, which by rights should make it a hot commodity in the back issue market, but you can inexplicably still pick it up cheap. The entire production budget for most free sampler books over the past twenty years would probably have been paid for what it cost to commission this one piece, but that effort and expense also makes the difference between a cherished memory and some filler crap I threw in the garbage. See that cover to DC Comics: The New 52 #1 above that some gopher threw together in Photoshop? I've got two copies I never even gave a proper thumbing through lining the bottom of a milk crate, and I only know that because I stumbled across them trying to find my copy of DC Sampler #1.

Getting inside the book, following a front page Meanwhile... column by Dick Giordano, Jerry Ordway provided this poster image of the All-Star Squadron. I could tell the characters were meant to be old fashioned, but I don't know that I had a clear perception of Earth-2 at the time. They seemed a bit silly and weird, but the art was fantastic, and I was intrigued by the more X-Menish Infinity, Inc. I ended up buying a few issues of A-SS off the stands, and have more terrible copies of Infinity, Inc. in my longboxes based on the intrigue inspired by fresh pieces like this. Arion, Lord of Atlantis got the next spread, probably by Jan Duursema, and featuring his supporting cast and villains. Promotional images for this book were always fascinating, and I wanted to get into the book so much, but as written by the reliably boring Paul Kupperberg my every attempt was met with meh. The Omega Men got the next spread. When I was in grade school, I got to spend less than a week at a summer camp as part of another sort of free sampler, and I managed to talk a councilor out of a postcard he had featuring the art from the first issue. Anything "omega" is inherently cool, Chuck Heston swipe be damned, and I liked the idea of a finite intergalactic war along the lines of Star Wars and Dreadstar. Never quite got into the book, but I did try.

According to the Grand Comic Database, Don Heck drew a Wonder Woman spread. Not a much revered time for the Amazing Amazon, and my vague recollection of the composition of the image is not kind to the artist or his subjects. I surely preferred Jim Aparo's Batman spread, teasing the arrival of the Outsiders, but the image isn't firm in my mind. They did cancel my favorite The Brave and the Bold to make room, which would ultimately diminish my Caped Crusader collecting and foist one of comics' worst teams on the public. I can still picture Ernie Colon's Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld spread though. She was bursting out of an energy portal, her grinning supporting cast in tow. There were some nifty designs there, and I continue to regret never giving her book a serious chance. I was much more interested in the George Perez New Teen Titans spread, and all the questions it posed. This was followed by a cute spread in which the G.I. Combat creative team were lined up for execution by firing squad. While Sgt. Rock and Easy Company were well past their prime, Kanigher and Kubert's book had another four years left in it.

I read World's Finest off and on, so the patchwork pitch registers only as a blip. I got a bigger kick out of Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt offering silent panels of Legion of Super-Heroes action married to semi-obscure old DC logos ("Secrets," "Mystery in Space," "Young Love.") It did nothing to satisfy my curiosity about the 30th Century though, since I could never find any Legion comics back then, and I knew them only from house ads. Carmine Infantino did a Flash spread that did a good job of recapping the extended story arc involving the Reverse Flash's murder of Iris West, attempted murder of Barry Allen's new fiance, and the Scarlet Speedster's murder trial for killing Professor Zoom. I never liked speed powers, but it made the Flash seem a lot more interesting, and I tried his book as a result. Also, I think this Gil Kane Superman spread was in here somewhere, but it wasn't listed on GCD.

In another case of false advertizing, Arak Son of Thunder got a spread by Ron Randall during his mohawk phase where he grabbed a satanic entity by the horn while swinging through the air and brandishing a tomahawk. So Conan! I read a few Araks, and they came across more like Prince Valiant. Supergirl was being done by Paul Kupperberg and Carmine Infantino at the time, which meant her spread was like the Anti-Flash's. It was a series of panels that made the Maid of Might look ridiculous, like being miniaturized, multiplied, and sucked up in a vacuum cleaner by cornball villains. In direct contrast, Pat Broderick was completely forgiven for inserting himself and Gerry Conway into a spread for The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Man because his detailing on characters like Tokamak and Flamebird was revolutionary. I'll never understand why an artist as intricate and influential as Broderick wasn't a bigger name, and I enjoyed him both on Firestorm and Captain Atom. Get a bigger, better view at Firestorm Fan. What a great parting shot, from a book that may have cost DC a fortune with no short term gain, but paid off dividends in softening my heart to their wares for decades afterward.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Illusion On-Demand's Top 20 Villains

According to Wikipedia, "Illusion On-Demand is an American VOD Video On Demand cable TV network focused on science fiction and fantasy programming. Illusion launched nationally in October 2007 with a special Halloween lineup. The regular programming consists of 21 shows and content blocks." I'd never heard of it, but while killing time checking out free programs on my cable box, I stumbled upon a 21 minute program counting down the "network's" top comic book bad guys. The production values were YouTube low, mostly static images (pulled directly off sites like Comic Vine and Wikipedia) with generic screen script and extremely repetitive bland (Creative Commons?) rawk music playing. Anyway, this sort of thing is how I gets me kicks, so here's their(?) picks...

20. The Kingpin (presented by Dan Slott)

19. P'Gell (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)

18. Bullseye (presented by Dan Slott)

17. Poison Ivy (presented by Afua Richardson)

16. Doctor Octopus (presented by Justin Gray and Dan Slott)

15. Skrulls (presented by Dan Slott)

14. Two-Face (presented by Dan Slott and Jimmy Palmiotti)

13. Venom (presented by Sonya Paz and Afua Richardson)

12. Sentinels (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)

11. Catwoman (presented by Afua Richardson and Amanda Conner)

10. Green Goblin (presented by Sonya Paz)

09. Red Skull (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)

08. Dark Phoenix (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner)

07. Darkseid (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti)

06. Nazis (presented by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Dan Slott)

05. Magneto (presented by Afua Richardson)

04. Doctor Doom (presented by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and some redhead)

03. Galactus (presented by Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan Slott, and Arthur Suydam)

02. Lex Luthor (presented by Dan Slott, Afua Richardson and some redhead)

01. The Joker (presented by Amanda Conner, Afua Richardson, Sonya Paz, Justin Gray, and Jimmy Palmiotti)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2011 Steel color art by Cusson “Shun” Cheung

Click For Original

Cusson “Shun” Cheung

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2007 Captain Comet inkwash art by Craig C. Cermak II

Click To Enlarge

Adam Blake is one of my favorite DC obscurities, and my exploration of the character's history on another blog helped inspire the creation of DC Bloodlines. It's about time I took the opportunity to revisit him!

Craig C. Cermak II

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Top 10 OMAC Covers

It's funny how delays work. I started developing this list before the launch of the New 52, and I fretted over the lack of diversity in the covers. I had the bare bones down around the time the third issue of the relaunched series was released. Now that I'm finally getting ready to publish over a year later, the New 52 series has already ended, a slew of guest appearances related to membership in the new defunct Justice League International have come and gone, and Kevin Cho still made little impact on the list as completed in 2011. Well, at least this'll be relatively stable for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of which, after the failure of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Saga, the King scaled back his ambitions considerably. His one success at DC was Kamandi, a riff on Planet of the Apes, so he seemed to riffle through his junk drawer looking for self-contained ideas that could be similarly commercial. One was an unpublished idea for a Captain America legacy hero in the future that he'd decided not to give to Marvel. Fueled by the socially conscious science fiction of the day, Kirby offered DC the One Man Army Corps. A schlimazel appropriately named Buddy Blank is picked by the seemingly omniscient satellite computer Brother Eye to receive an instant surgery that turns him into a superhuman powerhouse with wicked fighting skills. This gift is bestowed in service to keeping a world on the brink from collapsing into war and chaos. OMAC was always pitted against superior forces, in numbers and/or raw power, that he could pulverize into submission to the positive New World Order. It was decidedly blue collar speculative fiction, but ended up being surprisingly prescient. Still, the world is hard on prophets, and OMAC wasn't selling well enough to bother continuing with it after Kirby left DC with the eighth issue.

Very little of note was done with the concept over the years, surely in part due to DC's shying away from alternate futures after they streamlined their continuity in the 1980s. In the 00s, elements were recycled into a new, contemporary concept wherein forces of a shadow government infected unsuspecting citizens with nanites that turned them into sleeper agent T-1000s. It was an okay if highly derivative premise (a summation of writer Greg Rucka's entire career,) and was more successfully implemented thanks to ties to several major company events. What heat there was cooled down though, and an attempt to offer comics a single prime OMAC came to nothing. A new Asian OMAC hewing closer to Kirby's original, as a hero but not as a world building prediction engine, bit the dust after exactly eight issues.

10) Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth #50 (May, 1977)

I have to confess that there are any number of better covers that I could have put in the #10 spot. The truth is, I couldn't be bothered to strain over deciding who rated highest in last place. Meanwhile, this cover was my introduction to OMAC, tied the two Kirby properties together, and was inked by the underrated Alfredo Alcala. So there.

9) OMAC #8 (April, 2007)

Renato Guedes did some very attractive work on this series, including detailed, cinematic covers. Unfortunately, it's hard to get excited over robots smashing cars on the Las Vegas strip when Kirby was draining whole oceans and scooping out the brains of America's unsuspecting youth decades prior. Even here, with OMAC battling a Brother Eye built out of space junk, it's hard not to notice our hero looks like the Tick after getting punched in the face by a Megadeth album cover.

8) O.M.A.C. #1 (November, 2011)

Doom was predicted for this one right out of the gate, and I find an OMAC set in the world that is misses the point entirely. Still, I've heard the book was fun while it lasted, and it was nice to see a new Asian hero who didn't fit any sort of comic book ethnic mold. Keith Giffen seemed to be having a good time, but his simplistic covers paled against Kirby's, or even reference happy Renato Guedes.

7) Countdown Special: OMAC #1 (April, 2008)

This is a little more Magnus Robot Fighter than OMAC, but it's also a nice Ryan Sook image in the iconic Steranko mold. Okay, I'll admit that there are only six great(ish) OMAC covers, and this is where the line gets drawn between relevant (below) and merely pretty.

6) OMAC #4 (March/April, 1975)

What a difference the lack of a colored border makes. Kirby doesn't draw one damned thing once the logo barrage kicks in, but by simply allowing for breathing room under the clear blue sky, the world expands. It tricks you into thinking that monstrosity fills the entire cover, and really sells OMAC as David to its Goliath. Those are OMAC odds!

5) Firestorm #18 (December, 2005)

Yeah, this Borginess is very much divorced from the Kirby original, but it's creepily effective, and has the Nuclear Man ever had a cooler look? You will be assimilated!

4) OMAC #3 (January/February, 1975)

So here's OMAC in his goofy little Kirby flying machine with the suggestively placed stick, coasting out of the sun against a lemon yellow sky, tra-la-la. But wait, what about that semicircle of cannons as he is confronted by A HUNDRED-THOUSAND FOES! So, so OMAC.

3) The OMAC Project #5 (October, 2005)

For me, one of the defining characteristics of a great OMAC cover is to have as much stuff going on as possible. The future is coming so fast and hard that our puny 21st century brains should struggle to process it. Here we have a central figure generating multiple weapons amidst an explosion of pieces on a chessboard that's being written in binary code. Yeah, that's about blipvert enough for me.

2) OMAC #6 (July/August, 1975)

This one is awesome because of how it goes whole hog. OMAC isn't just bounding at the reader, but carrying a bound woman with him. They aren't just leaping off a wrecked train; you've got three cars of shattered windows and wrenched wheels. You know it's a dilapidated subway station because it's covered in battered signage and platform docks. You know the place is crawling with mutants, because the ones not reaching for our heroes amidst the wreckage are grasping from outside the frame. The only major flaw is that nearly half the image is taken up by clumsy, flat negative space drowning in bad copy and obese logos.

1) OMAC #1 (September/October, 1974)

This is actually kind of a terrible cover. There's an absolute vacuum for background, there's all manner of copy everywhere, the layout is awkward, the hero is a tiny figure, and there appears to be some question as to whether he is in fact a "One Man Army." On the other hand, was there a more twisted vision of sexuality in the Bronze Age (anticipating Realdoll by decades) than Lila the "Build-A-Friend?" Was there a more deliciously hyperbolic come-on than "A Startling Look Into... The World That's Coming!?" It's all so off, it's somehow on.

Honorable Mentions
OMAC #2 (1974)
OMAC Book One (1991)
Wonder Woman #221

Cornucopia of Top Comic Covers

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2008 Huntress FCBD sketch by Brian Shearer

Click To Enlarge

"I got this sketch from Brian Shearer (Gravy Boy) at my local comic shop during FCBD - May '08."

Brian Shearer

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Victor Stone: Affirmative Action Cyborg

A little over four years ago, I didn't take Barack Obama seriously as a presidential candidate. After eight years of Bush and a couple hundred years of being America, I didn't think the United States could handle a black president. Just four years earlier, Morrissey had released a song with the lyrics, "In America, the land of the free, they said, and of opportunity, in a just and a truthful way. But where the president, is never black, female or gay, and until that day, you've got nothing to say to me, to help me believe." Well, we checked one off the list, so what have you got to say now, Mr. Gloomypus? Well, I suppose he could point out that there were immediate calls for Obama's impeachment over such shady, stupid, cheap shot baloney as his being a "secret Muslim" who wasn't really a U.S. citizen. I attended a comic convention where protestors outside had drawn a Hitler mustache on Obama's picture (clearly unheeding of Godwin's Law, basic decorum, and any reasonable historical perspective. At least make it a Marxist beard to adhere remotely to your own rhetoric.) Despite my own best hopes, in the year of Trayvon Martin and poor reading comprehension among The Hunger Games audiences writ large across hatefully moronic Twitter screeds, race is still our collective kryptonite.

...Which brings us to Cyborg, who I have a problem with. Vic Stone was created in 1980 as part of a strategically multicultural New Teen Titans cloned from the DNA of the All-New, All-Different X-Men. The core team was still a bunch of white kids from the Silver Age, but they were joined by the sexy space-Latina, the vaguely Indian mystical hell-spawn, and the black robot guy. That might sound diminishing, especially coming from an Anglo-Saxon edging ever closer toward middle age. The truth is, there was a time when those three characters were among the most popular in comics. That said, those days were short lived in the grand scheme of things (3-4 years,) were never seriously exploited outside the team's book, and have not been remotely rekindled in the quarter century that's passed since. White males like Nightwing and Deathstroke have had success with spin-off solo series, and the team itself has been reconfigured into different modes of varying profitability typically centering around a nucleus of honky. Cyborg, meanwhile, had some try-outs in anthology titles and a solo mini-series decades too late, but remains best remembered as the African-American Teen Titan who didn't completely suck his way into limbo (as opposed to Hornblower, Bumblebee, Joto, etc.)

A lot of the blame hangs on his creators. Vic was basically an '80s revamping of the Thing by way of Luke Cage. He talked as "street" as middle-aged cracker Marv Wolfman could muster, but he was secretly smart and articulate. Not smart enough to manage avoiding being partially eaten by a space blob, create his own compensatory cybernetics, or even perform maintenance on his own parts (thank you S.T.A.R. Labs,) but he was no hoodlum. For the team's robo-strong man, Cyborg had a nasty tendency to bare more sensitive swaths of skin than the average male hero. For this, artist George Pérez is to blame. I mean, the guy's pivot joints are wide open, his unsecured trunk is one huge liability, and his armor doesn't even protect the good half of his head. Despite being handsome and half naked, Vic was always whining about all that he'd lost. This clearly did not include sex appeal, based on a series of hot girlfriends, nor the ability to "enjoy" their company, based on the visible meat held up by his shimmering stripper banana hammock.

That said, Vic's cybernetic enhancements weren't that impressive. He was basically in the same league as the Six Million Dollar Man, likely on a similar budget. He's strong. He can jump kind of high. He's sort of half-assed bulletproof. Enhanced senses. He can do some R2D2 type stuff like link up with computer systems and control aspects of them. Mainly, he's got a white sound blaster on his hand with your typical point and shoot interface. However, Cyborg only had a 24 hour battery charge for most of his career, which the cannon drained quickly, creating Silver Age drama over the arbitrary weakness.

You know, when I type "the Flash" in Google image search, my screen turns red. It goes emerald when I type "Green Lantern." If I type "Wonder," the search bar's first suggestion for an auto-fill is "Wonder Woman." The word "cyborg" was coined in 1960, and was being used extensively in science fiction by the 1980s. Run an image search, and Stone is competing with hundreds of other cyborgs for space, including Jean-Claude Van Damme and Angelina Jolie. So essentially, Vic had a phony personality, a generic name, cried all the time about imagined problems, and wasn't much to aspire to in the super powers department. Why didn't he catch on, I wonder?

Cyborg was benched for much of the '90s, and even had his trademarked brand (for comics, anyway) handed over to a passable Superman villain for a while. They tried giving Vic more armor (but less brain,) turned him into a liquid metal Plastic Man, and even pulled the old frienemy heel turn under the unwise new monicker "Cyberion." In recent years, he's been repositioned as a contender in outside media through animated appearances on the Teen Titans cartoon and live action on Smallville, but at the end of the day, he's still just Cyborg. Look at the poor guy wearing silver sneakers and a vest as a "costume." Aquaman and Green Arrow got spin-off pilots ahead of him.

Geoff Johns has spent several years trying to build Vic up in readers' minds, first in the pages of The Flash, on through a pivotal role in the Flashpoint crossover, and now as part of the New 52 DC reboot. The problem is, Johns has been doing this as an act of sheer will, without any serious support by the actual readers. He's a member of the current Justice League, the premier super-team at DC comics for much of their history. Unfortunately, the JLA has a shabby history with race relations, from the embarrassing Black Lightning refusing membership to the infinitely more embarrassing Vibe becoming the first actual non-white Leaguer 24 years after the team started (and it's noteworthy that he was also the first ever casualty and most tenaciously deceased of those who followed.)

The Justice League cartoon came up with the most widely accepted solution to date, by having one of the team's most powerful and prominent heroes be the African-American Green Lantern, John Stewart. It didn't hurt that Stewart is a layered character with a solid fan base, many of whom were pretty miffed about the honky Hal Jordan getting the nod for the big budget flop Green Lantern movie. Coupled with bypassing Hawkman for Hawkgirl, the League finally had diversity without having to bring in a third tier nobody who exists only to be non-white. Ideally, there would be non-derivative heroes for those roles, but as it stands, at least the minority version and the female half of a duo are better options than their forebearers.

Depending on who you ask, the Justice League was founded by either five or seven heroes, only one of whom was not born white or male (one each.) Martian Manhunter was the team's "person of color," though said color was green, and on his off hours he played a peckerwood police officer. Since John Jones was often played by African-Americans in media outside comics, and more recently in the direct-to-DVD animated movie Justice League: Doom the actual character of John Jones was made black, why not have him be the official negro Leaguer through a mild retcon massage? Yet, there are decades of comics out there with a white John Jones, and no sense of ownership in the black community of J'Onn J'Onzz. Besides, who wants their race represented by the least popular member of the team? Accommodating the passage of time is tricky business.

...Which brings us back to Cyborg, whose prowess in form and sales has been a fraction of even the Manhunter from Mars'. J'Onn J'Onzz appeared in a solo strip for thirteen years, had a self-titled series for three, and numerous mini-series and specials to his name. The guy's got more powers than Superman, and Cyborg is going to step into his role as a JLA founder? The aforementioned Doom movie was something of a hand-off to Cyborg, who was a special guest star elevated to member status thanks to his heroism. However, the turn required Cyborg to be portrayed as far more competent than he's ever been in the comics, and his pivotal role and congratulatory dialogue had the distinct odor of Poochie.

Moving on to the New 52 Justice League, the creators have smartly ramped up Cyborg's powers, including the addition of being the team's teleportational mode of transit. However, the method involved his being merged with a Mother Box, marrying the character to Kirby's New Gods mythos at the level of his very origin. In fact, since Stone's becoming Cyborg played out in the team book's pages, he is now wholly "owned" by the Justice League. Right from jump, his personal integrity is compromised, because his creation and continued existence is now wholly dependent on the whims of the book's creative team. All of his prior history has been erased, since he was no longer a Teen Titan with no seeming connection to any of his longtime friends from the prior continuity. As a Leaguer, his overarching lineage traces back to Steel (the armored scientist who was also a more developed and successful hero than Cyborg, but also entirely derivative of Superman) and Red Tornado (the robo-hero prone to being broken to bits.) This is not an admirable legacy.

As much as I would like to see a non-white hero with a significant role in the Justice League and the DC Universe as a whole, I really think Cyborg does a disservice to the goal. Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States by a clear mandate with much hoopla and hope. Barack Obama won his role, rather than having it handed to him. Cyborg was given founding status in the Justice League as a conciliatory gesture to the masses for never having a firm place for a hero of color among the DC pantheon. As much as we need to address the wrongs in this country with regard to race, making Cyborg a Justice Leaguer seems to diminish the team, and the means of his inclusion undermine the character himself. In spite of his many flaws, Cyborg deserves better than to be a token among titans, his entire canon stripped bear for the privilege, while the black community and readers as a whole deserve better than Cyborg getting a guilt ticket into the JLA.

Post-Racial DC Comics?