Wednesday, December 28, 2022

DC Films Special Podcast: Sundowning the DCEU

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Coarse Language: Listener Discretion is Advised

Meanwhile... Diabolu Frank, Mr. Fixit, & Illegal Machine discuss the failure of Shitzam! Black Adam, and the radical changes coming from James Gunn and Peter Safran as the new heads of DC Films at Warner Bros. Discovery.

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Aquaman, Black Adam, DC Special, DC Special Podcast, DCEU, Justice Society, Lobo, Podcast, Shazam, Superman, Wonder Woman

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Comic Reader Résumé: August, 1985

Loathe as I am to acknowledge it, by August of 1985 we're past the halfway point of Secret Wars II. We've done the everyone wants to kill the Molecule Man issue, the Peter Parker teaches The Beyonder to poop one, the one where the omnipotent being tries to buy hookers and private investigators with solid gold buildings that immediately, perilously collapse, and the ones where he becomes a horny yuppie with a dye job wearing Michael Jackson's castoffs. We've pioneered the contrived cameos in every title of the line for months, even Transformers, making Millennium look like Watchmen in the process. With this month's #5, we see our moping demigod hopelessly devoted to Dazzler, and the world is gifted teenage mutant Boom-Boom. I must insist that I never read any of this dreck, only flipping through my brother's copies. Jim Shooter always struck me as straight edge, so I can't come up with a consciousness altering substance that would have made him think that The Man Who Fell To Earth was a sound basis for a mega-crossover.

Yet another 1985 title that I need to briefly touch upon is Squadron Supreme, Marvel's alternate universe dystopian super-hero maxi-series that predated, and some say informed, Watchmen. I mean, they're both riffing on famous half-century old Aldous Huxley and George Orwell novels, but sure. I won't be referencing Watchmen here for some time, if ever, as I didn't read it until the mid '90s. My brother bought copies of the much less regarded Mark Gruenwald/Bob Hall/Paul Ryan epic, which I found to be so crushingly boring visually that I never even attempted to read a single issue. It's basically what if the JLA did an Identity Crisis in the Bronze Age, and even with these dollar store analogues, not-Batman is still the hero against the oppressive forces of not-Superman. To me, it takes the worst elements of Elseworlds, which were already reheated What Ifs, and Dan Didios them into actual, if distaff, continuity. No thanks.

Another 1985 oversight was the comics adaptation of the NBC television series V. These had a swell if minimalist ad campaign exploiting the spray-painted V logo, and I would occasionally spy them at the mall bookstores. I was and remain a huge fan of the first two television event mini-series, and some of the covers were nice, but I could not stomach the late and lacking career low art of Carmine Infantino. I've come around to a lot of revered silver age greats that were in no way my speed as a child, but Infantino's appeal is still largely a mystery to me. I see a lot of George Tuska in his work, but I prefer Tuska, and I'm not that big a fan of his, either. I'd already tried and swiftly abandoned the ongoing, single season V TV series, and the comic was a supplement to that, playing out somewhat like a newspaper strip. I did pull one or two of these out of quarter bins a few years later, but they were consistently disappointing mistakes. The post-apocalyptic relaunch of the weird western hero Jonah Hex had an even better ad campaign, but even worse market penetration. I think I saw it every once in a while at the mall, but not consistently, and never making it to the register.

A final overview before returning to monthly coverage, for Star Comics. The Marvel kiddie imprint began in 1984, with the comic book adaptation of The Muppets Take Manhattan. Continuing with the Jim Henson licenses, Fraggle Rock had a brief run under the imprint. Comic strip icon Heathcliff fared better, lasting 21 issues. The proper launch with original characters was at the start of 1985, offering a sci-fi take on Richie Rich in Planet Terry. I pleaded poverty, not buying an issue until a local shop offered copies for a dime each in the 2010s. I might have tried a Wally the Wizard at the same time and rate. Top Dog wasn't even that lucky, missing me entirely despite a desperate Spider-Man guest appearance. It was obvious that Marvel was trying to take on other publishers for the dwindling youth market, recycling the look and talent from companies like Harvey and Archie, but Royal Roy was a bit too blatant. Where most of these non-starters played out a year's worth of leash, he was only given half that length. I dabbled in some of the Star licensed fare, though Strawberry Shortcake didn't quite make the cut, and the Marvel creations lacked even her scant appeal. But I did give them a toss at the convenience store, so I figured they rated some mention, and I think the Hickman Secret Wars brought them into some semblance of continuity. A lot has been made of the New Universe's failure being tied to the dimming of Jim Shooter's star ahead of his dismissal in 1987, but I do wonder if his absence also killed the publisher's support of their baby branch.

You can't say that the DC Challenge wasn't promoted. It seemed like every one of their titles had a house ad for the exquisite corpse, upscale format, direct sales only, round robin maxi-series. The conceit was that there would be a different creative team with each issue, privy only to information from the previous issue, trying to stump the band with cliffhangers dumped into the lap of the next team. I was always terribly intrigued by the project, and while vising a small Oklahoma comic shop after the birth of my nephews, I picked it up as a set. For all its twists and turns, the one reveal they couldn't keep under wraps was that the result would be a complete mess and waste of talent. That'll happen when you progress from a gimmick rather than a story. Speaking of talent, the black and white magazine relaunch of Savage Tales offered a lengthy installment of The 'Nam drawn by Michael Golden, and other creators were no slouches. I remember tossing through it on the stands, but it didn't fit neatly into any nerd genres, and the $1.50 cover price was probably prohibitive. I was still a bit too gentle for all that macho aggression, and to this day haven't read anything from its brief run.

Blue Devil Summer Fun Annual #1 was more my speed, as the book's original creative team gathered together a misfit occult outfit out of The Creeper, Man-Bat, Black Orchid, the Demon Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, and The Phantom Stranger. It was a nice mix of obscurities I was already familiar with and first being introduced to, although I'm a little fuzzy on the timeline. Was this a flea market buy or a back issue from Third Planet in '87?

Less perplexing, Tales of the Teen Titans #59 came off the stand at a convenience store, marking the end of new material under that title. It instead offered a reprint of the rather expensive bonus book that introduced the New Teen Titans, as well as a Speedy team-up story that had appeared in a 1981 Best of DC digest. Hey, it was all new to me, unlike the reprints of the Baxter series that would follow. One of the worst decisions in DC history was to turn their top selling team book and only real competition against the X-Men into a direct market only title that would get recycled into a shoddy newsstand edition with a year's delay. It killed pedestrian traffic to a book already suffering the loss of the artist that built the brand in the first place.

My brother would pick up Incredible Hulk #312, the notable and notorious Bruce Banner abusive childhood issue, a few years down the line. Barry Windsor-Smith has accused Bill Mantlo of plagiarizing the plot from a Hulk graphic novel that he was developing, and wouldn't ultimately see print until 2021's Monsters, likely to serve as his final major work in comics. Although both men are still alive, Smith moved into fine art decades ago, and Mantlo suffered debilitating brain damage in the early '90s. Anyway, that issue made an impression on myself and others, helping to define Peter David's dozen years on the character, and the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk film. However, it was the next issue that I got out of a three-pack. The one where he's traveling the multiverse with sprites and Gerry Talaoc continues "fixing" Mike Mignola's art. Not so memorable.

One of the things I find so impressive looking back on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #108 is how much it acts as a bridge between Dennis O'Neil's last, best Daredevil stories as he moved away from aping Frank Miller into his bitter noir style deployed on The Question, but also to Miller's revered return to that title for the "Born Again" arc. "The Death of Jean DeWolff" made some waves in its time, but is almost entirely forgotten today. Matt Murdock is even a supporting character throughout the story, and you don't get much more grim & gritty than a serial killer gunning down a priest in a confessional. Literally only one of the Sin Eater's victims was an established character, but David & Buckler imbue the rest with enough life in their brief appearances to make the killing spree feel momentous. Mark Gruenwald was also laying the groundwork for his Scourge of the Underworld around this same time, so I wonder if this is a chicken & egg, Things Man and Swamp thing?

Ah, the moment I didn't know enough to dread, the surprise reveals in Dreadstar and Company #6. "Plan M" is finally revealed, offering a new twist on Jim Starlin's theocratic exploration begun in Warlock. On its own merits, not the strongest issue of the run, but a solid enough stopping point if you're going to announce that this was the last issue of the newsstand reprint series. See, I complain so much about Tales of the Teen Titans, but Epic giving a second life to a cult hit science fantasy series from several years earlier? Like Elfquest, a worthy effort, and it's not like Starlin hasn't benefited from expanding the audience of his works through constant reprints. Besides learning that I wouldn't be able to get any more issues of my favorite comic until I gained access to a proper comic shop, I was also bummed that the lead story was truncated and bolstered by a Bernie Wrightson back-up starring... Aldo Gorney?

Oh hey, I guess my dabbling in Star Comics wasn't as donzo as I thought. Meet Misty, star of her own six-issue mini-series plainly targeting the Barbie crowd, and I was probably one of the very few little straight boys who showed up instead. Misty Collins was a blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan dream teen who happened to also be the niece of Milly the Model, not that I would have known anything about what that meant. Trina Robbins went fully nostalgic for Marvel's old teen comedy strips, even including credit caption boxes for the outfits the characters wore, though there were obviously a lot more pastels and random geometric shapes in the mid '80s. Among the paper dolls was Misty's best friend Shirelle, a b-b-b-b-b-black girl, another marker of the changed times since Patsy & Hedy were pulling this shtick.

Oh mama, it's finally here, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #1. Where I'd only toss through Who's Who at the mall, I devotedly picked up the new and improved OHOTMU off the newsstand every month going forward. So many stats and descriptive texts! I can't honestly say I ever read a single issue from cover to cover, but on any given pass I was liable to skim through an unfamiliar entry. It was like a book, but for comic book characters! And it was such a huge value for that $1.50 I withheld from Savage Tales! Double sized, in color, no ads, and any given edition could while away an entire afternoon. Take my money! Admittedly, the character selection in "Abomination to Batroc's Brigade" wasn't the best, but the Avengers entry alone!

I don't recall if I bought my own copy of Web of Spider-Man #9 off the stand or if I read my brother's copy sometime later. The Kyle Baker in Sienkiewicz mode cover might have sold me, even if it was black suit Spidey wrangled with an oversized redneck and an old man in a corny super-hero costume. I think probably I wanted more Web-Head tales like Spectacular, and while this one definitely has an ice cold take on man bites dog news reporting by David Michelinie, it's woefully undermined by Vince Colletta assimilating the attempted art of Geof Isherwood. I just can't get past the Dazzlerness of it all.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Comic Reader Résumé: July, 1985

I'll need to take a moment to orient myself to July of 1985. The gap between my buying comics from this period new and a few years after as back stock is narrowing, and I technically haven't written a blog post for this project in nearly a decade, with age assuredly a greater factor in my recall capacity. I'm pretty sure All-Star Squadron #50 was in 1988's grocery sack o' comics, but it was conceivably in a 1989 quarter bin as well. Either way, the draw was a tie-in to Crisis On Infinite Earths, and not the hoary old farts that populated that book on the monthly. I specifically remember checking out the archival covers at the back of the book, and there was a time years later when I became very invested in DC history. Even at its peak, I doubt I could have slogged through a book this drab for continuity minutia so immediately irrelevant. More assuredly in a bin was DC Comics Presents Annual #4, a much better looking book thanks to the combination of Ed Barreto and Jerry Ordway, but even less a consideration with its tale of Superwoman and Pre-Crisis Luthors plagiarizing the Sivanas one last time. Nathaniel Dusk II #1 was the second time I would start and not finish a mini-series starring the eponymous Depression-era private investigator by Don McGregor and Gene Colan. If more than two issues of either had been in the bins, maybe things would have worked out different.

My half-brother had a mild interest in Firelord, the herald of Galactus with the flaming Q-Tip, so he probably had a copy of either Amazing Spider-Man #269 or #270, but he didn't care enough to have both, and I didn't care enough to keep track of which. The debut issue of the yearlong Eternals was definitely something I flipped through on the newsstand and never touched again, beginning a lifelong disinterest in that property. I still think Alan Kupperberg gets a bad rap in general, but it probably didn't hurt my more favorable opinion that Mark Farmer inked him on Blue Devil #17. That said, he's a bit too "straight" for the lighthearted misadventures, leaning too seriously into a Crisis tie-in revolving around The Fisherman and seemingly sentient raindrops. For reasons unknown, I skipped or was deprived of the following issue. Brian Bolland's Black Book #1 definitely got fished out of the cheapie bin for the reliably sumptuous art, but this child of the '80s was only going to get so much out of color reprints of British anthology lifts of '60s Hammer Horror tropes. By choice or not, it swiftly left my possession.

I knew I remembered Whilce Portacio inking Arthur Adams at some early point in their careers, and there's no other embellisher to obscure that fact in Longshot #2. Both admittedly improve by leaps and bounds from this point, but there's something about the dark edge Portacio lends Adams that is never recaptured after this. Again, I read my brother's copies of the mini-series, most likely in 1986 or '87, and it was scarring. Longshot stumbles into a job as a stuntman, and when he's grievously injured in the job, the director discreetly dumps his body in a bayou. I remember well the press coverage of the tragic deaths on the set of the Twilight Zone movie, and while John Landis technically remains one of my favorite directors from that period, I retain a great deal of animosity toward his smug face to this day. It's not hard to see the parallel Ann Nocenti was barely reaching for, and there's even a passing physical resemblance, although he's clearly amalgamated with Spielberg and Lucas. The third issue also supposedly shipped this month, though that's difficult to fathom with the level of detailing going into every page. You can really see the influence Adams had on J. Scott Campbell and Rob Liefeld in these early efforts, not that either artist ever reached even this level of craft. The story is a twisted take on It's a Wonderful Life, where a schlimazel tries to take his own life, but lands on Longshot's floating body. The alien has some sort of healing factor, and proceeds to demonstrate his inherent, obscene good luck on a misadventure where the schlimazel takes every knock. In the end, he's so battered and disaffected that suicide holds no more interest, as he'd rather return home to the suddenly desired voices of the nag and brats that first drove him to the attempt.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 is assuredly a prime collecting memory, for the month, year, and ever. I never cared a lick about football, but I managed to grow into and would quite soon at this point grow out of a Houston Oilers winter coat with a blue breast, silver sleeves, and red cuffs. Some teenage girls were running the counter at the mall Waldenbooks, and thought I was so cute with my Nicholas Bradford haircut that they gave me a copy of the double-length key issue featuring the death of Supergirl. I took the copy with me on a Greyhound bus ride from Houston to Colorado Spring to visit my stepfather's brother's family, the occasional comics fans from whom I'd gotten and never returned that Spider-Man team-up treasury. I think the younger brother held a grudge, because he was nasty towards me the rest of the time I barely knew him. Anyway, the sci-fi scale and air of tragedy from Crisis permeated my action figure play in a way Secret Wars never had. The art by Perez & Ordway was incredible, I got a primer in essential DC/Green Lantern lore, and was introduced to scores of new characters in the best possible presentation within the minuscule space. I've read enough entertaining Maid of Might stories to not diminish her by calling this her best, but certainly there are few super-hero deaths that still resonate as much as this one. The less effective but longer lasting death of the Barry Allen Flash in the next issue was part of my buddy's grocery sack bounty.

After a lapse in Web-Head interest, I came back strong for The All New, All Daring Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #107. It was a pretty mean feat for semi-disgraced swiper Rich Buckler and that one moonlighting guy from marketing working under Marvel's only African-American editor. The story would end up revealing the death of Jean DeWolff, a literally disposable gender-swapped Commissioner Gordon at a time when Spidey's main squeeze was a Catwoman lift. The amount of blood and the framing of Captain DeWolff's murder were so shocking that I showed it to my comics disinterested girlfriend. Daredevil shows up partway through, and the tone of his title seemed to be borrowed as well. Jim Owsley would catch all kinds of hell for this bold new direction, but he was on to something with this Peter David guy, and anyway, Owsley would eventually literally make a whole other name for himself as Christopher Priest.

Unbeknownst to myself, Dreadstar and Company #5 presented the penultimate issue of that newsstand reprint series of the 1983 Baxter format direct sales only title. While still plentiful in its violent action and advancement of plot, it still becomes a welcome comic romp by the midpoint, necessary after several uncommonly bleak issues. Marvel Age Annual #1 had the novel and likely costly idea of having the creative teams of most of their current comics produce a single page story to advertise current events in their titles. This was followed by mostly text-only teasers for upcoming events in those titles and the broader Marvel production slate. I read my brother's copy at a later date, which I suppose was my first taste of intentionally watching commercials on YouTube that I gladly skipped when they were actually airing on television.