So What Did I Think About Thor?

So I just received some fan mail about what I thought of the Thor movie. I guess that’s appropriate, since I shared what I thought about Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and have previously reviewed X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern.

Out of the three comic book/super hero films, Thor stands out to me as the best of this summer’s crop. For those of you who don’t know me, I have admittedly bad taste in movies. If it isn’t really funny or have a lot of explosions, chances are I haven’t seen it.

Even though I’ve been a lifelong Thor fan and wanted the movie to be as awesome as the Simonson and Kirby and Ellis comics, the thought of a super critically acclaimed serious Shakespearean director like Kenneth Branagh directing the film scared me. What if he was going to make the movie serious in tone? What if he tried turning this into an epic like Lord of the Rings…and by that I meant long and painful to watch? What if he decided to turn this into a critically acclaimed piece of cinema?

Well Branagh didn’t do that; he made a perfect Chris film, balancing action and humor. Other people seem to like it as well; Thor has pulled in receipts of almost $460,000,000 worldwide and the movie had many positive reviews. Branagh made Thor in the image of the first Iron Man, where the audience is introduced to the super hero, and elaborate action scenes are passed over in lieu of ample character development.

Stop! Hammer time!

At heart, Thor is a film about family relationships. Odin, king of the Asgardians, has two sons. Thor is the more well liked and respected one, but is ultimately to brash and immature to take his throne. Loki is a bit conniving and genuinely means well, but Thor’s status as Odin’s favored son hurts him.

This family feud ultimately comes to a boil, as Thor is exiled to Earth and stripped of his power by Odin for arrogantly trying to defeat Asgard’s long-standing enemies the frost giants of Jotunheim. Things only get worse in the house of Odin. Loki learns of his true frost giant heritage and becomes enraged at Odin for hiding this from him. As a result, Odin (who is masterfully played by Anthony Hopkins) collapses into a catatonic state.

Loki, realizing this is his only chance to be the ruler of Asgard, takes his adopted father’s throne and plans to destroy Jotunheim once and for all, as a way of showing Odin that he is just as powerful (if not more) than his brother Thor, that he is just as strong a leader as his father, and that Loki would be willing to kill off every single frost giant–even though he himself is one–if it would gain the love and favor of his adopted father. To make sure that Thor doesn’t interfere, Loki convinces him that he should never return.

Ultimately, Thor accepts his humility (as he spends time learning about the human condition and spirit with human scientist Jane Foster) and returns to Asgard. He takes it upon himself to stop Loki, as slaughtering the frost giants of Jotunheim is ultimately wrong. The two brother fight through the realms of Asgard and Jotunheim, destroying the bridge that connects the two realms. Odin comes to stop them from fighting and prevent his sons from being lost in the cosmic abyss. Humiliated by being defeated in front of Odin and now having to reach out to be saved by his brother Thor, Loki would rather fall into the cosmic abyss then be rescued by Thor.

Even though Loki would never believe it, the film ends with Odin and Thor mourn his loss, as they always unconditionally loved him.

There was some comedy, mainly as Thor tried to fit in with the humans. The action scenes of Asgardian viking battle were well executed. But this story is what made this movie.

At the heart of Thor isn’t as medieval battles, instead there is a strong examination of family dynamics reminding us of why we have to be compassionate to others and to strive to be supportive. Loki’s demise is tragic as it was spurned by him never understanding how much his family cared for him.

This was always the theme of the Thor comics and Branagh found a way to tell this epic, grandiose story, making it just as heartfelt and complex as anything Shakespeare could come up with.

And that is why I loved this film.

And if that’s not good enough, Thor comics legend Walt Simonson, his wife and writer Louise Simonson, and longtime editor Ralph Macchio (not the Karate Kid) all make an appearance during Asgaridian banquet scene.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#21 Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man

Let’s face it, Iron Man was never one of the my favorite Marvel characters.  Popularity wise he’s way behind Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine and even Captain America. He just seems to a character that just happens to be there.

Can you think of a really good Iron Man comic story? I couldn’t.

For the longest time, I just associated Iron Man as being one of the early Avengers and from the story where he realizes he is an alcoholic (Demon in a Bottle) and when he goes on a rampage against everyone who’s ripped of his armor designs (Armor Wars). And I guess, to a certain extent, the Iron Man cartoon series from the mid-1990s, but I primarily watched that do to being a Hawkeye fan boy.

Over the years, Iron Man was just another guy to me. He wasn’t a bad character; I just didn’t connect to him or think that he was that important. Iron Man was just a background guy in the Marvel Universe as far as I was concerned he was like Chekov from Star Trek, just not Russian and wearing robot armor.

When I heard that they were making a movie about Iron Man, I really didn’t expect too much. I figured it would be as good as the Blade films, but hopefully better than Daredevil. Regardless, I would see it.

Then 2008 happened.

Sweet Christmas, was I wrong.

Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was just as comfortable being himself as he was being Iron Man.

What made this different from anything I could have imagined was how awesome Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark. His take on the character made him a very quirky yet extremely likable man, much like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

RDJ’s portrayal was complex. In the first movie, he brings Tony to live and you really see how much the character grows from being extremely self-centered and really didn’t care that his family fortune was made on the suffering of others.

When said weaponry was turned against him and nearly claim his life, Stark came to the grim realizations about what it actually means to be in the business of war. His life and company then took a shift, using their resources to help humanity instead of providing tools to destroy it.

All the while, Stark is true to himself—he still aggrandizes himself, as evident in his various press conference and Stark Expo scenes in the sequel. Don’t forget the fact that he was so hot to trot about revealing his status as Iron Man to the world.

In the sequel, they made him even more endearing, as themes of his own mortality and self-doubt plagued him during the film. When he finally overcomes them, you feel relieved just as much as Stark is.

In spite of the character’s huge ego, RDJ made Stark an immensely likable guy. So what if he’s a bit cocky? Ultimately, his heart is in the right place and he would be a great friend. That’s not because he’ insanely rich, but because he would do anything to help you.

So thank you Robert Downey Jr.; you made Iron Man cool.

Looking for something to read at the beach?

I was asked to put together some recommended comics that are suitable for an adult audience.  Here is a list I put together, including four based on recent superhero movies and four that have nothing to do with super heroes.

If you went to the movie theater this summer, chances are you’ve seen that Hollywood has been making movies based on comic books! Comic books (or their more sophisticated cousin the graphic novel) are not just for kids. In fact, most comic books are written for adults! Not only that, but story wise there is much more to comics then just super heroes!

Here are some great books that were the basis for some of this summer’s biggest movies, as well as some of the most popular graphic novels on the shelves!

Thor and Loki: Blood Brothers
written by Rob Rodi
art by Esad Ribic

This cautionary tale shows family dynamics of the godlike brothers Loki and Thor from this summer’s blockbuster. Showing their lives infancy to adulthood, Loki is constantly reminded of his inferiority in comparison to his brother Thor, as well as not being able cope with the utter disdain his father Odin has for him. These strained relationships show give a glimpse on how a lifetime of sadness and self-doubt created a rift between the brothers.

We3
written by Grant Morrison
art by Frank Quitely

After three beloved pets are abducted and forced to become military weapons, all they want to do is return to their human families. When they find out they are going to be “decomissioned” (destroyed), they set out on a perilous journey to survive. Morrison created three extremely sympathetic characters, that remind you of your childhood pets. The book may have limited dialogue, but Quitely’s innovative page design and stunning artwork will fully capture your imagination.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow
written by Dennis O’Neil
art by Neal Adams

Green Lantern made his movie screen debut this summer, but this story from 1970 is his most compelling adventure. With his more socially conscious friend Green Arrow at his side, the typically space faring but somewhat naive Green Lantern goes on a cross-country journey of self exploration through Vietnam War-era America. Along the way, the pair encounter racism and bigotry, drug abuse, sexism and discrimination, and corruption; all subjects not typically shown in comics at that point.

Pride of Baghdad
written by Brian K. Vaughan
art by Niko Henrichon

Based on a true story, this graphic novel shows the life of four lions trying to survive their escape from a war-torn Baghdad Zoo in the early 2000. Much to the chagrin of the other animals, Zill feels that his pride can only survive by leaving the gutted zoo.  By humanizing all of the zoo animals, a story is an examination of the role off family and the cost of freedom.

FablesFables
written Bill Willingham
with various artists
Did you ever wonder what it would be like if your favorite fairy tale characters were real? Willingham explores this topic in the Fables series. The fairy tale characters you grow up with live amongst in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, dealing with real world situations like the nasty divorce of Snow White and Prince Charming due to his infidelity, the now human Big Bad Wolf trying to redeem himself for the transgressions of his youth, and even the strained father-and-son relationship of Gepetto and Pinocchio. Each part of the series is different in subject matter, falling into genres like crime, mystery, romance and even political suspense.

Magneto: Testament
written by Greg Pak
art by Carmine Di Giandomenico

As seen in  X-Men: First Class, the superhuman Magneto is a Holocaust survivor and this book tells the story of how he–then a teenager named Max Eisenhardt–loses his family and barely survives. All elements of super heroics are stripped from the character, leaving a compelling narrative. The art is moody and dark, creating a sense of drama and sorrow. The book also features a powerful short story by comics legends Neal Adams and Joe Kubert, chronicling the life of Auschwitz prisoner Dina Babbitt, whose artistic talents were exploited by Josef Mengele in exchange for him guaranteeing her and her mother’s safety.

Captain America
by Ed Brubaker
art by Steve Epting

This ongoing series chronicles the most recent adventures of Captain America, from the return of his long assumed dead sidekick, to him facing and overcoming his own mortality. Filled with espionage and mystery, as well as dealing with themes of personal loss and adapting to an ever-changing world, Brubaker creates an intriguing take on one of America’s most iconic characters.

The Walking Dead
by Robert Kirkman
art by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard

Zombies have taken the spot of vampires as America’s favorite supernatural creature. This series is less about monsters and horror, as it revolves around small town sheriff Rick Grimes and the community he protects, trying to find a way to survive in a post apocalyptic world. This has been adapted to a popular television series on AMC.

These and other great comics can be found at your friendly neighborhood comic book shop. Don’t know where you can find one? Go here or call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK. If you can’t find one, try your local library or one of the fine book retailers in your town or online.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#22 Owly

Owly and Friends Reading by Andy Runton

One of the biggest arguments in the comic book world isn’t if Captain America could beat up Batman, or is it better to buy print or digital comics. The question is are comics for kids or adults? To that, I say yes….there is age appropriate stuff for everyone.

That said, one of my favorite things in comics is Andy Runton’s Owly series of graphic novels. And yes, it is kid friendly.

Owly is exactly what you imagine he is…an owl. He live in the forest with his friends, like Scampy the squirrel and Wormy the worm. Andy came up with the idea from a recurring doodle he would leave on notes to his family.

After you get attached to the extremely cute Owly and his friends are, the second thing you will notice is that the book HAS NO WORDS?!?!?

Comic books and cartoon strips fall into the art category of sequential art, where a series of images are connected to each other in such a way that a narrative is constructed.

Owly is the perfect sequential art for youngsters who are learning or haven’t yet learned to read. The panels that make up the Owly graphic novels tell the story through the characters expressions and interaction with each other. Its pure visual literacy, as anyone, regardless of reading level or language, can determine what is going on. Andy explains his reason for doing it this way:

I don’t consider myself a writer so when I tried to write dialogue it was always lacking. The first Owly originally had words, but it just wasn’t working and I decided to leave it off and use his eyes and body language to tell the story. That was okay with me because I always loved silent characters, and it made me work harder to make sure the story was clear.  Snoopy and Woodstock, Looney Tunes, Dumbo, and Pete’s Dragon were all silent characters and were a big part of my childhood so that’s where most of the inspiration comes from. Besides, If I made Owly talk… how would he speak? Would he have an accent?

I decided… no… he won’t talk. I would embrace the silence and convey everything with expressions. But then I ran into some difficulties. Some things are hard to say in just static pictures. I learned a lot from Kurt Wolfgang, who used icons instead of dialogue, and even though I could never do what he does, reading his book Where Hats Go gave me the courage to use icons to help with my storytelling. I used to design computer icons for a living. Good icons can convey complex ideas clearly. I brought that into my comics. It does make some things hard to say, but that’s what makes comics so interesting for me. It’s a challenge!

The Owly stories mostly deal about friendship and adventure. They are always very light-hearted and remind me a lot of the old Disney Silly Symphonies cartoons.

Owly is for everyone, from a toddler to your grandparents. Don’t believe me? Andy has a bunch of comics up for download here. They’ll look really awesome on your iPad. I dare you to not find this cute.

Andy’s website features more Owly goodness, as well as some other fun cartoons. Also, follow him on Twitter.

 

Jim Lee tweets Batman: Hush Unwrapped preview

Apparently Hush Unwrapped is out soonish on Twitpic

Jim Lee (@jimlee00) posted this image of the new Batman: Hush Unwrapped Edition on his twitter. This new edition of 2002’s year long story by Lee and writer Jeph Loeb is stripped down, just featuring Lee’s original pencils and the text.

Comic art fans can see how much work went into producing the book. If your a fan of Lee, this only reaffirms that. But if you are not, this gives a compelling argument on why he is so popular.

Storywise, Loeb crafted a fun tale pitting Batman against his entire rogue’s gallery and his personal circle of friends to determine who the new masked criminal Hush is and why he knows so much about Bruce Wayne.

You can pick this up at your friendly neighbordhood comic book store and other fine retailers on July 19.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#23 Death: The High Cost of Living

Death: The High Cost of Living

Neil Gaiman’s epic dark fantasy The Sandman is considered to be one of the higher points in comics history. To oversimplify the series, it was about a family about godlike beings called the Endless, each of whom embody a cosmic force/principal, and how they interact with each other and mortals. In particular, the series focused on Dream, the guardian of imagination, dreams and inspiration.

Just as popular as Dream was his older sister, Death. Gaiman’s take on Death was something completely different. Most people personify death as a skeleton or a grim reaper archetype. Instead, Death is an attractive young woman, clad in all black. She looks more like someone who would be scouring a record store for Bauhaus and Depeche Mode albums then the grim reaper. She is also very nice and kind. This version of Death isn’t as much a representation of the end, but someone who guides the recently deceased into the next phase of their existence.

Death’s popularity warranted a mini-series in 1993 called Death: The High Cost of Living, by Gaiman with art by Chris Bachalo.

The basis of the story is very simple. Once a century, Death gets to spend a day among the living in order to better understand humanity. This is a lot like the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday. In The High Cost of Living, Death takes her “vacation” in 1990s Manhattan, starting out with her saving the life of a possibly-suicidal young man named Sexton.

The pair winds up spending the day together, talking about the meaning of life and death, as well as interacting with some earthbound characters from the Sandman series. Ultimately, they grow quite fond of each other, although Sexton does not believe that Death is really, well, death incarnate.

The story ends with Death’s physical form dying after telling Sexton how much she enjoyed their time together. Sexton as a character changed over the course of the three issues, as he seemed to gain a bit more confidence in himself as well as some optimism. He was smitten by Death.

Sexton learned from her the importance of life, and ends the book hoping to see Death again. But not too soon; he has his whole life ahead of him.

What we take away from this story is that life is important and it is never that bad. Death shows us how truly enjoyable and exciting the human experience is, and how much we take it for granted. If she is excited about going out for hot dogs and bagels, we should be too.

This blending of serious concepts with lightheadedness is one of Gaiman’s strengths as a writer. As for the art side of the book, Bachalo’s pencils remind me a lot of Jaime Hernandez’s work in Love and Rockets, but with a touch more photo realism. Mark Buckinghams’ inking helps create a dark mood from time to time, only enhancing some of the more serious moments.

Who thought a book about Death could be so much fun?

DC/Vertigo has the first issue available for download here FOR FREE. Check it out…you won’t be sorry!

Classic Cartoon Strips at Barnes and Noble?

Comic book display at Barnes and Noble in Paramus, NJ

Barnes and Noble has decided it wants to get into the comic book business by devoting space on the magazine stands to a wide array of comic books. Their Paramus, NJ store is taking it one step further.

In the back of this Barnes and Noble, they have an extensive used book section. You can find a lot of clearance books and publisher’s remnants, but the overwhelming majority of it is used, classic and vintage books. Their display cases are a thing of beauty, featuring rare books that I would love to have, including the super rare Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show or even a remarked Absolute Sandman, featuring Neil Gaiman and Sam Keith’s signatures (and a Keith sketch!). These kinds of treasures don’t last long.

This weekend, my girlfriend and I visited the store only to find a whole display filled with books about comics and cartoon strips from the 1930s-1960s. Not only that, but there were binders put together, painstakingly collecting strips from that time period. There were binders filled with Annie, Blondie and Dagwood and even Joe Palooka strips.

I felt like I was Indiana Jones and I had discovered the Holy Grail.

We spoke with the section manager who told us that this collection was recently purchased from an estate in Goshen, NY. The previous owner of the collection was a super fan and you could really tell.

All of the binders and books were filled with related press clippings, from the New York Times, Time magazine and even the Comics Journal. So if  you were looking at a Krazy Kat book, not only would you get the book itself, but a whole compendium of related materials. It was amazing.

Whoever put this together really loved comics and cartoon strips. This literally was a life’s work to put together; based on the e of the clippings and strips, these were accumulated over the last 75 years.

It also lead to more questions about the person who put them together, like what else did they have in their collection; did they work in the industry; why did they do this?

I also felt a bit sad.

This was someone’s life work, and their family was willing to get rid of it. I guess they didn’t share in the love of comics. The hope that someone who would appreciate this work was enough reason to make us want to purchase something.

I picked some of the Alley Oop binders, and my girlfriend left with some Blondie, Krazy Kat and comics history books.

Expect to see some of these treasures in the next couple of days.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#24 Rob Liefeld

I’ve always enjoyed Rob Liefeld. Rob Liefeld's Uncanny X-Force

His art, with its over muscled and hyper exaggerated movement, is certainly a style that works in his projects. When you look back at the titles that Liefeld worked on, none of them fall into the serious “comics-as-art” case studies. Instead, his books were always the over-the-top super hero adventures with lots of explosions. His men are drawn with more muscle striation than you could find in a He-Man action figure. On the other side, his ladies had hotter and more unnatural proportions than Barbie.

Liefeld works best when he is teamed up with a strong writer. Case in point, look at his run on Hawk & Dove in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Written by Barbara and Karl Kesel, they created a damn fine series that still holds up to this day. Karl’s inking certainly Rob Liefeld's Hawk and Doveworks well with Liefeld’s art, maintaining the kineticism, but keeping it focused.

His work with Louise Simonson and Fabian Nicieza on New Mutants and X-Force respectively is solid. It also brought us Cable and Deadpool, both of which are cornerstones in the X-franchise. Youngblood was certainly a big deal when it came out, as were his Heroes Reborn takes on Captain America and the Avengers.

His fan reception is certainly polarizing. As successful as he is, there is also a vocal number of people who have an immense dislike of him, finding criticisms of his artistic skill and his storytelling.

I’ve never been one of the cynical fan types, but one thing I have noticed is that everyone is looking for the next Watchmen. Instead of enjoying a book for just being an escapist action/adventure fantasy, they unleash their frustrations on it for not being the next big groundbreaking work or for it not advancing the art form.

I think that Liefeld would find Michael Bay to be a kindred spirits of sorts. They both have a similar storytelling mantra, with big action and bigger effects, and not focusing on the more serious or realistic side. Because of that, they have a lot of vocal detractors.

But ultimately, they have dedicated and loyal fanbases, not to mention the ability to create ‘event’ stories that capture outsiders attention. Bay has grossed over $3 billion worldwide. Granted, Liefeld hasn’t generated money to that level but he’s certainly sold some funny books over the years.

Regardless what you think of him, you have to accept that Liefeld loves comics. Whenever you read any of his interviews or listen to him talk at a convention, you cannot argue that he isn’t a fan. He loves this industry. And not only that, he’s always super friendly to his fans.

And besides, how many comic creators have had television commercials?

Check out Lifeld’s blog for all kinds of arty goodness.

So let’s talk about the new Justice League

Justice League of America in 2011 by Jim LeeThis new picture of the new Justice League by Jim Lee has been circulating around today. The lineup has been known for some time now, but this is a better look at their modified character designs.

Aquaman looks the same as ever and so does Flash and Green Lantern. The one big thing on all these costumes is all the piping that makes it look like they’re wearing some sort of armor. That reminds me of how the DCU characters looked in the Mortal Kombat vs. DC game a few years back.

The big three seem to have the most changes. Wonder Woman is still wearing something similar to her recent revamp, except this new look has no yellow or the jacket. She’s also back to her more traditional style books as opposed to the 1980s stirrup biker pants. Also note the lack of American flag motifs, which I wonder (haha!) was a conscious effort to broaden her global appeal.

Superman and Batman really look like they bought their costumes together. They’ve both dropped wearing underwear on the outside, and Superman seems to be sporting a utility belt of some sort. Maybe its so he can carry his allergy medicine; I’ve heard pollen is just as bad as kryptonite.

And poor Cyborg, well, he looks like he’s wearing Lex Luthor armor. Sorry dude.

The other interesting thing is that in that picture is that there seem to be other JLA types on either side. In the blue panel, its Deadman, Atom, Element Woman (thank Bleeding Cool for identifying who it was; I had no idea) and Firestorm. For those who don’t know, Element Woman is a new character, pretty much a female version of Elemento, who debuted in the Flashpoint miniseries. I guess she survives it.

On the right, a red panel consisting of Green Arrow (you would thin that him being a life-long liberal would put him on the blue/left side ;)), Black Canaray, Hawkman and Mera, Aquaman’s wife.

I wonder what the significance of these two groups are; maybe something with the new guard vs. the old guard. Who knows.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#25 Batman: The Animated Series

The year 1992 brought us one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time–Batman: The Animated Series. This cartoon show from Fox pushed the boundaries of what a cartoon show was. It was still kid friendly, but somehow it catered to adults.

Not only was it run on Saturday mornings, it was also broadcast on Sunday nights for a while. Guided by Bruce Timm’s “dark deco” stylings, visually the show looked like it was straight out of the 1940s, complete with Max Fleischer Studios style artwork.When you compared it to other animated television shows, you could clearly see how much time and effort was put into Batman. I remember reading an article in Air (a magazine about on the airbrush as an art tool and a medium) where they went into great deal about how complicated the background paintings were.

But on top of that, each episode was just so brilliantly written. Again, the show certainly did not pander to a juvenile audience. Themes of love and death were regularly featured. The series came across as an an old timey detective show.

It must have did well at this, as the show wound up winning three Emmy awards.

Kevin Conroy’s vocal portrayal of Batman is how I imagine the character. Sorry Christian Bale, but you have nothing on Kevin’s batman.

Kevin’s portrayal of Batman was dark and mysterious, but human. It just worked so well.

Not to mention Mark Hammill’s portrayal of the Joker. The character was maniacal and ridiculous all at the same time. Hammill made some intentionally cheesy and pun-laden dialogue work. He did such a good job in his creation of the character, that every time I read the Joker in a comic book, whether it be a random issue or a significant book like The Killing Joke, I hear his voice.

For trivia buffs, Batman: The Animated Series also created the Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya characters into the DC Universe. After debuting on the television show, the two later crossed over into the comic book universe.

Harley was pretty much the same–a maniacal clown with an unconditional love and loyalty for the Joker. Renee evolved much more as a character, with her sexuality being explored and her taking over the role as the Question.

So what did you think of the show?

Spash Page Saturday #2

Dr. Strange #177 splash page by Gene Colan

Paying tribute to the late Gene Colan, this week’s slash page comes from Dr. Strange #177. Colan had the chance to design a new costume for he good doctor , thanks to villain Asmodeus taking over his body in the story.

Dr. Strange creates a new physical form when he returns from the supernatural dimension. This page is its big debut, and its a lot more super hero-ish when you compare it to Strange’s classic poofy shirt outfit.The costume is very sleek, with the mask completely covering his face except for the eyes and mouth. I wonder if this costume had any influence on Jack Kirby’s design of Mr. Miracle, who dresses very similar.

This costume was an attempt at revamping the title, which was suffering from low sales. Dr. Strange wound up being cancelled in issue 183, which hit newsstands in November 1969.

Colan’s work on this is really awesome (dare I say ridiculously awesome?). Strange looks like he can beat the tar out of you, as opposed to his usual crazy wizard appearance. The negative space around the figure really makes him pop from the background, with the flares and lightning only emphasizing his power.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#26 Tiny Titans

Tiny Titans made its debut in 2008, and it soon became one of my favorite comic books of all time. The series goes beyond being a children’s book–its flat out hysterical.

Cartoonists Art Baltazar and  Franco (Aureliani…it seems he doesn’t like using his last name) have re-envisioned the entire DCU, well mostly the Teen Titans characters, as kids attending an elementary school together. The lead villain is Deathstroke the Terminator, who has been turned into an over-bearing principal. Appearances from other characters include Darkseid, Blue Beetle and even some of the various multi-colored lanterns.

Art and Franco have come up with a winning formula. The writing is silly, making the book completely kid friendly. But the writing doesn’t pander to children, making the book enjoyable for adults as well.

Best of all is the art. It is extremely stylized and unique, but completely expressive. Many of the stories are short, only a few pages. It reminds me more of a collection of cartoon strips then the prototypical comic.

And did I mention that their art is completely cute and silly?

If you enjoy Tiny Titans as much as I do, make sure you check out Art and Franco’s other creator-owned. project Patrick the Wolf Boy. You don’t need a description; the title is exactly what you get. The book is written and drawn in the same style as Tiny Titans. They also work on DC’s all ages Captain Marvel and Young Justice books.

Make sure you check out Art and Franco’s websites. There you can find artwork, interviews and other fun stuff.

As the Tiny Titans put it, “AWE YEAH!”

30 Things I Like About Comics–#27 Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art / photo courtesy flickr.com/wolrkinpana

If you live near New York City and you are a comic fan, make sure you visit the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art, located at 594 Broadway, Suite 401. More commonly known by its acronym MoCCA, this gallery space features rotatin exhibits of comic and cartoon art.

The first time I went there was during the summer of 2009. Knowing how much I loved Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, my girlfriend put together a lovely day in Manhattan to check out MoCCA’s David Mazzucchelli exhibit.

It consisted of the original art from those two mentioned books, plus pages from the then-recently released graphic novel Asterios Polyp. To say I was in my fanboy glory would be an understatement.

Curently, MoCCA is featuring an exhibit of Will Eisner art, showing everything from his career, from the Spirit to A Contract With God. It also features art from his contemporaries and the modern era that show his impact on visual storytelling. I saw it a few weeks ago, and its highly reccommended. The exhibit runs through August 11.

Aside from the gallery, MoCCA regularly hosts workshops and discussions about comic art as well as its annual festival. Admission to these events are always reasonably priced, and are even cheaper if you become a member.

For more information about MoCCA, go here.

In Memoriam: Gene Colan

Gene Colan art featuring Dr. Strange, Captain America, Namor, Daredevil, Iron Man and DraculaThis morning I woke up to find out that comic book art legend Gene Colan had lost his battle with cancer. Mr. Colan was 84 years old. The last few years of his life were certainly difficult, as he faced many serious health issues (including loss of vision and liver disease), the loss of his wife Adrienne, and even a substantial amount of his original comic pages being stolen.

Gene ColanMr. Colan’s career in the comics industry began in 1944, shortly before he served in World War II. His last published work was last year’s Captain America #601, which one an Eisner Award for best single issue. It’s really impressive when you think about a man at that age and suffering from various health complications being able to produce a full length comic at the quality he did.

He produced books for all the major publishers, but I think he will be most remembered for his work at Marvel. Back in their glory days of the 1960s, he was up their with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and John and Sal Buscema as the go to guys. His work is iconic; many of the most memorable images of Daredevil, Iron Man, Namor and Dr. Strange were produced by his hands. Not to mention his 70 issue run on Tomb of Dracula, which is a definite achievement in the art form.

Not to mention he co-created the Falcon, one of the (if not the) first African-American super heroes. Here’s a quote from a Marvel Masterworks compilation:

“In the late 1960s Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests were regular occurrences, and Stan, always wanting to be at the forefront of things, started bringing these headlines into the comics. … One of the biggest steps we took in this direction came in Captain America. I enjoyed drawing people of every kind. I drew as many different types of people as I could into the scenes I illustrated, and I loved drawing black people. I always found their features interesting and so much of their strength, spirit and wisdom written on their faces. I approached Stan, as I remember, with the idea of introducing an African-American hero and he took to it right away. … I looked at several African-American magazines, and used them as the basis of inspiration for bringing The Falcon to life.”

He was also responsible for creating Blade, which later went on to become a successful crossover franchise for Marvel in the movie and television world during the early 2000s.

Mr. Colan had an amazing life and career, and the comics world will certainly not forget his accomplishments.

30 Things I Like About Comics — #28 Fred Hembeck

Fred Hembeck's "Fantastif Four Roast" cover

I was first introduced to Fred Hembeck as a child, thanks to his work being Comics Scene. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, imagine Wizard but without a price guide. His style was unique, with those unmistakable faces and swirly knees/elbows. Hembeck’s cartoons lovingly poked fun at super heroes (and comics in general). Some of his strips would feature him as a character, interacting with the various heroes and villains.

Hembeck’s strips were published in other magazines. He even had a run of doing comic strips for DC, and was a regular feature in Marvel Age. Compared to the state of the comics industry today, it’s crazy to think that Marvel could support a monthly title in the 1980s/early 1990s that was about comics!

The best part of his work is all the great references, both hidden and obvious, in his work. His humor and cleverness is just so great.

If you look at the cover of Fantastic Four Roast above, just check out all the great subtleties:

  • Ka-Zar (bottom center) is flirting with a very smitten Shadowcat, much to the surprise of her boyfriend Colossus.
  • Tigra and Angel (lower left) are so going to hook up after this.
  • Iron Man (center) is chit chatting with Dazzler, and drinking a bottle of Coca Cola. I guess he’s serious about not being an alcoholic and his sobriety.
  • Deathlok (middle left) looks really angry, and just below him is 3-D Man. I would be angry if I was stuck talking with him, too.

Hembeck’s website is filled with all kinds of goodness, comic strips, cover reinterpretations, and much more. Check it out; it will be good times.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#29 Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

Having grown up in the 1980s, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was really my first introduction to Spider-Man and the whole Marvel Universe. The show’s premise was very simple. A college-aged Spidey teams up with his Empire State University classmates/super hero pals Iceman and Firestar (who was created specifically for the show) team up and take out evildoers world-wide.

But first they meet up at Aunt May’s house, where she and her inappropriately named dog Ms. Lion would provide some sort of comic relief. They would then go down to the basement, which somehow transformed into some technologically advanced top-secret lair that James Bond would be jealous of.

Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was great because it featured cameo appearances by everyone from Marvel. The X-Men, Dr. Doom, Namor the Sub-Mariner, even Ka-Zar and Shanna the She-Devil were all on the show at some point.

Some of the episodes hold up better than others. As a whole, it’s very lighthearted and fun. Occasionally it pops up on ABC Family or Disney XD, and I will get sucked in. The worst was when I was on vacation in Disney World a few years back. We were staying at the Yacht Club and I sound up sitting in the kids section so I could watch Amazing Friends during breakfast, much to the embarrassment to the rest of my travel companions.

To me, the most memorable episode was “The X-Men Adventure” where the Spider-Friends were invited by the X-Men to hang out and use the Danger Room training facility, in the same way as a kid I would go hang out with my classmates after school to take advantage of their Super Nintendo. Everyone is having a great time until Firestar’s ex-boyfriend-turned-cyborg Cyberiad takes control of the Danger Room to get his revenge. He blamed her for the accident that left him a cyborg.Cyberiad

Judging by how Cyberiad wound up looking, Firestar dodged a bullet by not marrying him. I think they might have even had some dialogue in the episode that they were lovers…very awkward for a Saturday morning cartoon show. The two of them wind up fighting, with Firestar zapping him with her microwave powers. Defeated, Cyberiad regains his humanity, tells Firestar he loves her and seemingly dies on-screen.  Again….very awkward.

Sadly, the series is still not available on DVD. If you need a Spide-Man and his Amazing Friends fix, visit Spider-Friends.  It is a great website that chronicles everything Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends related.

Howard Chaykin’s Retro Avengers

In the comics world, Howard Chaykin is a legend. His recent work at Marvel, on Punisher War Journal, Supreme Power and War Is Hell have all been great. Marvel just announced that his new project is Avengers 1959 which has Howling Commando and WWII war hero Nick Fury putting together a team of super humans to track down a group of former Nazis.

This book follows an arc from New Avengers, which featured a flashback to this team.

Chaykin said this about this new series, in the interview over on Comic Book Resources:

We’re going to take a look at New York in the 1950s, and we’re going to visit Madripoor and some of the great kingdoms of Marvel history. We’ll see other characters from that period show up in cameos and guest spots, which I will not talk about, but expect some fun and recognizable faces.”

The group that Fury recruits includes Sabretooth, Kraven, Namora (who has became quite popular since Agents of Atlas brought her back), the Blonde Phantom and Victor Fortune, a 1940s era profiteer that Chaykin created back in the 1970s.

Avengers 1959 debuts as a mini-series this October.

Consider me sold.

Ultimate Spider-Man: DEAD

Death of Ultimate Spider-Man

Yes, this may be a spoiler for some since comics don’t come out till tomorrow. Quite frankly this is not a spoiler since USA Today broke the story.

For those unaware, Marvel (specifically Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen) killed off Spider-Man. Not the traditional one, but the one featured in the Ultimate comics since 2000. The Ultimate line featured revised, more modernized versions of the classic Marvel characters, featuring an updated Spidey. This version was independent, and allowed the creators to explore and reimagine the character and his world.

Spider-Man’s run lasted 160 issues, and tomorrow it comes to an abrupt end. Peter Parker dies saving everyone who is important to him–Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy and his Aunt May–from being killed at the hands of arch-rival Green Goblin. Ultimately, he sacrifices himself on their behalf.

The Spider-Man mythos is built on tragedy and responsibility. It all goes back to what his Uncle Ben told him:

With great power comes great responsibility.

Peter ultimately becomes Spider-Man to seek revenge upon the robber-turned-murderer of Uncle Ben. Peter ultimately had the chance to prevent this, but he didn’t. This failing became his cross to bare, with him finding comfort because he was using his “great power” to make sure that no one would have to lose a loved one the way he did.

As Spider-Man was forged in death, its only fitting that the character ends that way. Spider-Man exists only because he failed to prevent the death of a loved one. Its only appropriate that his life was bookended by ceasing to exist because he prevented the death of his loved ones.

Bendis gave a great quote in the previously mentioned USA Today article.

Bendis had kicked around the idea of killing him for years. As the Ultimate Universe progressed, he saw ways to do things that hadn’t been seen before or explore brand-new relationships.

“We had talked about what Spider-Man meant and what it could mean and what kind of new stories you could tell,” Bendis says. “If he died saving Aunt May like he couldn’t save Uncle Ben, then you really had something.

“It occurred to me that if Peter passed away in a meaningful way, he could be the Uncle Ben character to a new Spider-Man, which then continues it to be a real Spider-Man story. Then it became more than just, ‘Oh my God, you killed him!'”

Ultimately, Spider-Man redeemed himself, which is a fitting end for him. He may have failed Uncle Ben, but he didn’t fail Aunt May.

This differs from when DC killed off Superman in 1992, as they always intended on bringing back the last son of Krypton. Marvel swears up and down that this is the end of the line for the character.

The tricky part is where they decide to go from here. Marvel has already announced that in the fall there will be a new Ultimate Spider-Man, and Bendis hinted that the new one will be influenced by Peter’s death.

Hopefully they won’t bring in some clones, as the one featured in the regular series only lead to more headaches. Until then, rest in peace Ultimate Spider-Man.

30 Things I Like About Comics–#30 Quarter Bins

As my friends and family love to point out, I’m hitting a big milestone–turning the big 30–in thirty days. So to celebrate this, I’m goint to think about thirty things in comic books that I like. And this starts 30 days before my birthday, so you have plenty of time to start thinking about gifts…wink wink ;)

The Longbox

Photo credit Dave Fayram - http://www.flickr.com/davefayram

To the people who feel that the cost of comics is too high, I feel your pain. Reading and liking comics can get expensive. That’s where comic shows come into play.

Like many kids who survived the whole comics craze of the 1990s, Wizard magazine convinced me that a stack of Deathmate comics would be better than a 401K plan. When you go to a comic show, yes there are books that go for a good chunk of money.

But the best place to find comics is in the quarter bin or their other family members, the snooty dollar and two dollar bins, or the slightly more succesful fifty cent bin (he didn’t go to a state college). The condition of these books varies, although at the bare minimum its a readable copy. Most of the time the books are in great shape.

So how do comics wind up in the quarter bin?

Well, there’s a bunch of reasons. Sometimes they’re overstock that a retailers is stuck with. Others have been sitting in the back issue section at full price way too long, and there is no demand for them. Maybe they were part of a collection, or an eBay lot. Who knows?

Ultimately, the reader wins. You can put together full rons of a series relatively cheaply. If buying the Operation: Galactic Storm  omnibus seems like a bad investment, you can buy the individual issues at a fraction of the cost.

I’ve found a lot of stuff in these bins that I’ve wound up loving, whether a full run of Power Pack, every JLI book and related spinoff series, and even the most recent Iron Fist series by Ed Brubaker. The best find from a quarter bin was a Adam Hughes Justice League book, that he signed and sketched on the inside page! Not bad for a quarter!

The experience of going through the quarter bins can be overwhelming. The best thing to do is plan ahead, and make a list of the issues you are looking for. This can save you from buying duplicates, which no one likes.

If you find some beat up comics, you can upcycle them into various craft projects. DIYLife has a great feature on how you can make a wallet out of old comic books.

So what have you found from a quarter bin?