30 Things I Like About Comics—#1 Justice League International

We’ve done it. We’ve gotten to one of my–if not the favorite–things in comics, the Justice League International. So how did a group of B and C list super heroes capture my heart?

Writers Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis gave this motley crew such great personalities. Just look at some of them. Booster Gold was a greedy, scheming George Costanza type, but had the looks and self confidence to make it work. His best friend Blue Beetle was always cracking jokes, but secretly had low seelf esteem in regards to his appearance.
Fire was a Brazillian sex pot and her best friend Ice was a bit socially conservative.
Guy Gardner was the prototypical dumb jock and was stuck with an idiot would-be sidekick in G’nort. Power Girl and Black Canary were super feminists. Elongated Man and his wife Sue were the obnoxious cute couple. Maxwell Lord was like Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny, but more of a tool. And these were just the primary characters.

The best part of this book was how they were able to intertwine the JLI’s personal lives and problems equally with the crime fighting and world saving stories. The book may have been silly at times, but you would always be more interested in what was going on between the characters then what diabolical scheme they were stopping.

You remember the time that Booster and Beetle tried to open a vacation resort on the living island Kooey Koeey Kooey. You remember Guy’s awkward first date with Ice. Or when Batman finally had enough and punched Guy out. Just fun stuff.

I thin that’s why many readers, and myself personally, had such a hard time with the whole mid 2000s DC, where it seemed that JLI characters were being killed left and right. Sue Dibny’s death was the plot device in Identity Crisis (and later on Elongated Man got killed off). Maxwell Lord turned uber-villain and murdered Blue Beetle. Rocket Red bit the dust in OMAC Project. Saying the last decade was rough is an understatement. It sucks seeing your favorite characters getting knocked off left and right.

But I’m really excited for the fall, with a new book featuring JLI coming after Flashpoint. It’s written by Dan Jurgens, who not only worked on JLI back in the day but also created Booster Gold. I can’t wait!

30 Things I Like About Comics—#2 Wolverine

I know what your going to say. Stop it. I don’t care what you think. Yes, he’s all over the place. Yes’ he’s super popular. But its for a reason; Wolverine is awesome. My first introduction to the character came back when I was around 1984, in some combination of the Secret Wars action figure, seeing him on Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and in a comic book or two.

What I originally liked about Wolverine was that he didn’t fit in with the rest of the super heroes. He’s so objective about everything. He’s not afraid to use violence, which makes his peers hesitant. But the more I read, the more complicated he is.

I loved the fact that he had no idea about the majority of his life. You wound up being really sympathetic to him, as when both the character and reader learn about his past, it’s usually pretty depressing. But in spite of that, he still keeps going.

Yes, he was modified to be the ultimate killing machine, but Wolverine is really a kind person. Look at the paternal relationship he has with the younger female X-Men, like Kitty Pryde, Jubilee and even his female clone X-23. In recent years, they’ve developed his relationship with Spider-Man, who he’s kind of an older brother figure to.

The great thing about Wolverine as a character is that he can be fit into any situation. He works well in a typical super hero tale, just as much as you can put him in a dark, gritty story. He looks appropriate anywhere, whether he’s fighting aliens, ninja, soldiers or robots.

Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the character in the X-Men films is just superb and is one of the best depictions of a super hero in cinema. He has the best mix of sarcasm and bravado, which really bring the character to life.

So yes, Wolverine is ridiculously awesome. We’ll be talking a lot about him in the coming months.

 

30 Things I Like About Comics—#4 Jack Kirby in the 1970s

I don’t care about disco; the 1970s were Jack Kirby’s decade. If he cut his teeth in the industry in the 1940s and perfected the art form during the 1960s, the 1970s is when Kirby reinvented the super hero genre.

Starting with the “Fourth World” family of titles–New Gods, Mr. Miracle, Forever People and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen–Kirby started telling cosmic epics with amazing art to boot. From there he went on to the one man army corps OMAC, the post apocalyptic Kamandi and the ridiculously underrated demon Etrigan.

His art during this period was just stellar; it looked like nothing ever done before in comics. He experimented with not only photostat collages but with the infamous “kirby krackes”.

Eventually Kirby returned to Marvel where he kept up the cosmic storytelling, with the equally-as-good-as the Fourth World series the Eternals. His Machine Man and Devil Dinosaur are often overlooked awesome books.He took this cosmic storytelling to more Earth-bound books like Captain America and Black Panther.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#5 Super Hero Statistics

When I’m not being a comics geek, I’m a basketball geek. I go over statistics and box scores all the time; it’s how you can win arguments on how awesome Pete Maravich was without being alive during his hey-day. Thanks to books/series like Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and Who’s Who in the DC Universe, fanboys everywhere can scientifically compare their favorite comic book characters.

These books are the holy grail of comic book trivia. Characters’ height, family origins, where they went to college, how much they can bench press, pretty much anything you would ever want to know about your favorite comic book characters.

During the trading card mania that gripped the United States in the 1990s, there were several card sets devoted to comics. Many of them had statistics on the back of them, quantifiying how strong Thor was and the like.

Kids today have it so easy. They can just go online and hit up Wikipedia and find this stuff out. But back in the day, you would hoard your Handbooks and Who’s Who‘s and your cards just in the event you needed to tell someone why Captain Atom could beat up Thanos.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#6 Ka-Zar and Zabu

Detail from Ka-Zar #2

Ka-Zar is such an awesome and underutilized superhero character. Loosely based on a Marvel (Timely at the time) pulp magazine and comics character, the Ka-Zar that most people are familiar with is Kevin Plunder, the son of an English explorer who was orphaned in the Savage Land—a prehistoric jungle hidden away in Antarctica filled with human and humanoid species, as well as dinosaurs.

Ka-Zar first appeared in an early issue of X-Men in 1965 and has batted around the Marvel Universe since. He has had two ongoing series, one in the 1980s by Bruce Jones and Mike Carlin and a later won in the 1990s by Mark Waid.

His stories are fairly simple. It’s usually about Ka-Zar exploring the Savage Land and dealing with the various warring tribes. Sometimes stories deal with him fighting off poachers and big game hunters, who are after the Savage Land’s wildlife. In those stories he gets to leave the Savage Land, getting to travel to New York to fight off villains like Kraven.

Why I like Ka-Zar stories so much is that they are so much fun to read. There are dinosaurs, crazy natives, and did I mention dinosaurs? He also has a really small but important cast of supporting characters. His love interest is Shanna the She Devil, the self-appointed protector of Africa’s wildlife.

But Ka-Zar’s best friend is Zabu, the world’s last smilodon (that’s a sabre-toothed tiger for you non-zoologists). After his pride was slaughtered when we he was a cub, he wandered around the Savage Land and saved a young Ka-Zar from a tribe of cavemen. The two became best of friends and inseperable.

Zabu is often a plot device, with Ka-Zar having to save him, whether it be from tribes in the Savage Land or when the cat has ventured into the modern world. During Jones’ series, they had a recurring backup feature that chronicled Zabu’s life.

You might think that this is a lot like Tarzan, but its’ not. It’s better. These are just fun stories about a guy, his hot girlfriend (and later on wife) and his best friend/pet sabre-toothed tiger that live in a jungle filled with dinosaurs. You don’t get better than this, folks.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#7 Comic Show Sketches

Nightwing given the Odinforce, wearing Thor's helmet and ruling Asgard by Tom Raney

One of the best things about going to comic book shows is getting sketches from artists. Not only do you wind up getting a unique piece of art, but its a great opportunity to talk with your favorite comic creators. I’m going to share the story of my first comic sketch, and how it wound up being Nightwing wearing Thor’s helmet.

I remember it like it was yesterday; it was Wizard World’s Philadelphia show in 2004. At the recommendation of a friend, I set out to get sketches. The first stop was Tom Raney who was signing and sketching at the DC booth. I was a fan of his then-current work on Outsiders, as well as his previous work on Thor.

As I waited online for a long time, I started wondering what sketch I would ask for. After all this was very important; it’s my first sketch. I decided that I wanted a Brother Blood sketch; after all he was a prominent villain in the first couple issues of Outsiders. Before I knew it, I was next in line and then things got weird. I’m going to write this out like a script so you can get the full effect.

Raney: (finished signing everything) So what would you like a sketch of?

Me: Brother Blood would be awesome.

Raney: Do you have a reference? Chris did those issues.

(Now I’m embarrassed, because I confused his issues with another artists. Eep)

Me:  (mutters something intelligible and feeling really awkward) Ahh….could I get Nightwing wearing a Thor helmet?

Raney: Sure!

And then Tom crafted the above sketch, which is just flat out awesome! It was very nice of him to do something that was so ridiculous.

And that’s how I got my first comic sketch. You can see more of his work at his blog or his DeviantArt.

Crisis of Infinite #10s

Houston, we have a problem. Pal Andrew over at ComicBookMarks has claimed a No Prize by noting that the numbering in my ongoing 30 Things I Like About Comics series of posts has gotten a little wonky; the posts about the Simonsons and Namor are both numbered #10, which then throws off the Frank Miller/Daredevil post.

Eep.

So in the spirit of Superboy Prime punching the walls of reality to fix continuity, the next post in the series will be #7, which should fix everything. And for what its worth, the numbering really doesn’t matter. It’s not a ranking.

We’ll return to your regularly scheduled programming in a moment.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#9 Frank Miller’s Daredevil

A lot of people are partial to 300, Sin City and his Batman work, but my favorite Frank Miller material was his run on Daredevil. We’re talking about his nearly three-year run from issues 158 to 191.

To call this story an epic is an understatement. Miller’s Daredevil reads a lot like a modernized version of Will Eisner’s the Spirit, filled with shady criminals, detective work, strong touch broads, and tons of twists. This is something that can take a bunch of posts to explain but the general story involves Daredevil trying to stop NYC crimelord the Kingpin. Things only get more complicated as the Kingpin sets assassins Bullseye and Elektra–Daredevil’s former girlfriend–after him. Throw in investigative reporter Ben Urich figuring out Daredevil’s secret identity, Daredevil saving Kingpin’s wife, and a healthy dosage of ninja gangs, this all builds to a huge tragedy for the Man Without Fear.

This movie was loosely adapted into the Ben Affleck film, but that pales in comparison to the original. Go out and get this NOW.

What are you waiting for?

30 Things I Like About Comics—#11 The Kents

Superman is torn between his Kryptonian and Human parents during Zero Hour. Taken from the cover of Superman #93 by Dan Jurgens and Josef Rubenstein

In a nutshell, everyone knows that Superman crash landed onto Earth and was adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who shaped him into the big blue boy scout and the world greatest hero. But do you know what happened to the Kents?

Originally, they died shortly after Clark graduated high school and took off to Metropolis. In John Byrne’s reboot of Superman after Crisis, he brought the Kents and made them a fixture in Superman’s life.

Byrne and later the 1990s Superman writers (led by Dan Jurgens) showed how important the relationship between the parents and the son was. No matter what the situation was–fighting off Darkseid, his love life with Lois, job stresses–Clark always knew he had his parents there for him. The would do anything for their son.

The other great thing was that Ma and Pa Kent are what link Superman to his humanity. Even though he’s pretty much a god amongst insects, he still seeks their guidance and approval. On the flip side, his parents love him unconditionally, and they are just as happy and proud of him whether he saved the universe or just saved 15% by switching to Geico.

Everything was fine until the “Brainiac” story arc, where Superman saves the world, yet fails to save his father, who passes away from a heart attack during stress of Superman preventing a missile from destroying the Kent home.

I have mixed feeling about this. I understand that the death of a beloved character like Jonathan Kent is powerful, especially when it’s viewed through Clark’s eyes. But I really think it didn’t need to happen. Too many super heroes are loners and have no family, like Batman and Punisher and Wolverine…and the list goes on.

What made Superman was his parents. Clark loves them, and they were proud of him. And that’s the way Superman should always be.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#12 Hero Initiative

If you are a comics fan, you should really support the Hero Initiative. It’s a nonprofit group that helps comic creators (that have worked in the industry for at least 10 years) that are in need in a variety of ways including medical aid, financial support and helping them find work in the industry.

Supporting the Hero Initiative is a great way for comic fans, current creators and publishers to give back to the industry and lend a hand to creators in need. Since they started, the program has raised and dispersed over $400,000 to comics creators in need. Some of the comic creators that have publicly acknowledged support they received from Hero Initiative are Gene Colan and William Messner-Loebs.

Hero raises money through various ways. When you go to comic shows, they usually have a table where they sell signed comics and posters, as well as original art and have sketching opportunities. I was able to get an awesome Dan Jurgens sketch of Booster Gold for a donation.

They also produce sketch books that they offer for sale as well as have special auctions through their website for original art. One time they auctioned a lunch date with Marvel’s chief creative officer Joe Quesada!

For more information about how you can support, visit www.HeroInitiative.org.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#13 Mike Deodato

Mike Deodato sketching at New York Comic-Con 2009

Mike Deodato sketching at New York Comic-Con 2009 (courtesy http://www.flickr.com/excalipoor)

Brazil can lay claim to being the home to the samba dance, the capoeira fighting style, Max Cavalera and his thrash metal bands Sepultura and Soulfly, and Mike Deodato, who happens to be one of my favorite comic book artists.

One of the things that separates him from his peers and puts him closer to artists like Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock is that Deodao has distinct phases of his career.

If you look at his work from the 1990s, it really fits the Image Comics style that was all the rage. There is a strong influence of Jim Lee, especially in the way he constructs his figures. On the clothing side, he takes some fashion tips from Rob Liefeld in his designs. Some people think that this part of his carer, although good, is dated. I don’t agree with that. There is a certain amount of motion and detail in his work from this period that will always stand out. Some of his best work from this period is the “Worldengine” story in Thor with Warren Ellis. His versions of the Asgardians and their world were breathtaking. He also had a really good run on Wonder Woman with William Mesner-Loebs.

Deodato seemed to have disappeared from the comics world for a while and came back to Marvel with a vengeance in the mid 2000s. His new/current style involves a lot of negative space and shadows, creating a dark and moody environment for the characters. Even the way he draws people has changed, going to a much more photo-realistic style reminiscent of Brian Hitch. Primarily he has been working on Avengers related books, like New Avengers, Secret Avengers and Thunderbolts, and even had a really good run on Amazing Spider-Man as well. This new style debuted on a run of Incredible Hulk with Bruce Jones, which was more espionage than action/adventure. This new look was perfect.

For more information, pictures of some of his recent work and art sales, visit Glass House Graphics.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#14 Lobo

If VH1′s series I Love The 1990s had a comic book edition, you would have to devote a whole episode to Lobo, the intergalactic bounty hunter extraordinaire. But before he was the cigar chomping fragmaster, he was actualy quite boring.

Lobo first debuted in Roger Slifer and Keith Giffen’s Omega Men #3 as just your average bountyhunter alien type way back in 1983. He sporadically appeared for a while until Giffen brought back a revamped Lobo in Justice League International.

Thanks to stuff like Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen being both critically and commercially succesful, there was a rush to make super heroes more dark and gritty throughout the late 1980s/early 1990s. For that time period, Wolverine and the Punisher were the poster children of that type of hero. There were countless knock offs of the brooding and violent hero, and the new Lobo would become an over-the-top parody.

 “I came up with him as an indictment of the Punisher, Wolverine hero prototype and somehow he caught on as the high violence poster boy. Go figure.”

Keith Giffen in a Newsarama biography

The new Lobo was still a bounty hunter, but he was super foul-mouthed and violent to the point of absurdity. He’s the last of his race the Czarnians–he killed them all in a science fair experiment gone horribly wrong. Lobo was ridiculous; everything he did was exaggerated. Lobo mania gripped the comic book world in the 1990s, as he went on to have several series and miniseries, mostly written by Giffen and Alan Grant, with art by Simon Bisley.

Here are some of the highlights of his appearances in comics:

Lobocop- just what you would expect, a Robocop Parody.

Paramilitary Christmas Special- the Easter bunny has hired Lobo to take out Santa Claus once and for all.

Infanticide- His bastard daughter puts together an army to kill him.

Lobo’s Back- After being killed, neither Heaven nor Hell want him in their respective realms, reincarnating him in different forms. Eventually he is granted immortality if he never comes back again.

Unamerican Gladiators- Lobo participates in an uber-deadly game show.

All of the Lobo books are violent, dark comedies akin to a more slapstic Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. If you enjoyed Machete, these are comics for you. Up until last year, director Guy Ritchie was attached to bringing the “Main Man” to the big screen. But there is much more to Lobo than just being a bad-ass hitman.

Past the surface, Lobo does have some complex character traits. Most obvious is his love of animals, like his pet dog Dawg and the herds of Space Dolphins he protects. When he found out that Aquaman was friendly to dolphins, that was enough reason for him to want to be friends.Yes, Lobo is a big burly tough guy who loves animals.

He also has so many great nicknames and expressions, many that I have adapted into everyday use, including:

  • Frag (verb): to mess something up. See also fragging, fragged, frag! fraggin
  • Feetal Gizz (noun): ????; sometimes used an interjection.
  • Bastich (noun): a portmanteu of bastard and bitch.
  • The Main Man (noun): Lobo’s declaration of his universal superiority.
  • The ‘Bo (noun): short for Lobo
  • Master Frag (noun): Lobo’s declaration of him being the master of frag.
  • Mister Machete (noun): Lobo’s declaration of his penchance for using knives.
  • Scourge o’ the Cosmos (noun): Lobo’s declaration of him being the universe’s most hated person.
  • The Ultimate Bastich (noun): Lobo’s declaration of him being the universe’s biggest bastard and/or bitch.

Lobo also has a strong love/hate relationship with Superman. Obviously, Superman detest Lobo for being so violent. Lobo thinks that Supes is a wimp. But somehow, they can coexist from time to time and its always an epic story. In the Superman and Justice League cartoons, they really explored this, culminating in an episode with Lobo taking an injured (and assumed dead) Superman’s spot in the Justice League, as he felt he was the only one as physically strong and gifted as Supes.

That’s Lobo, ladies and gentlemen. If you like dark comedy and absurd cartoonish violence, this is your book.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#15 Crisis on Infinite Earths

 

We're Gonna Have A Crisis Tonight!

With all the talk of DC’s latest continuity reboot Flashpoint, let’s not forget the first time they tried to re-launch the company. Yes, we’re talking about the continuity fixing Crisis on Infinite Earths. They may have had other major crisis (Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, I’m looking at you), but my favorite was the original.

But before we get to that, let’s go over the backstory.

Since its inception, there were some continuity problems in DC. Characters’ powers and origins were changed back and forth as creative staff came and left the books. Things like Clark Kent as Superboy and how Robin never aged caused some early continuity headaches. But all of this was acceptable; this is super hero comics we are talking about.

In the late 1950s/early 1960s, DC began revamping their Golden Age characters under the direction of Julius Schwartz. The new Flash, Green Lantern and atom had nothing to do with their predecessors, other than their names and similar powers. Then in 1961’s Flash #123 everything changed. The current Flash, Barry Allen, wound up getting stuck in a parallel universe inhabited by the original Flash, Jay Garrick, and the heroes of his era. Since Barry’s Earth was the current one, it was called Earth-1 and Jay’s became Earth-2. The two earth’s respective super hero teams, the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, would visit each other’s universe from time to time, as would their villains. Everything seemed to make sense…

As time went on, other Earths were introduced thus creating the DC multiverse. Earth-3 was ruled by super villains. Earth-C was straight out of a funny animal cartoon and inhabited by Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. And that was just the beginning. As DC bought out its competitors, the characters formerly from Quality, Charlton and Fawcett would each get their own Earth. To make things confusing, not only were there multiple versions of the characters (Superman of Earth-1, Superman of Earth-2, Superman of Earth-324) but they would “switch” universes making everything way to complicated.

To celebrate DC’s fiftieth anniversary and to solve the continuity questions once and for all, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez (with help from Len Wein) had the duty of putting together the ultimate crossover, called Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The story, in brief, was that originally there was only one universe. The Oan mad scientist Krona winds up travelling to the beginning of time to see how it all began. Unfortunately he messes up and causes the then forming universe to split into a million parallel versions of itself. This winds up also creating two godlike beings, the matter loving Monitor and the anti-matter loving Anti-Monitor.

Anti-Monitor goes on a bender destroying the universes and makes him more powerful. It’s up to Monitor to recruit the super heroes—and the super villains—of all the various Earths to team up and stop the Anti-Monitor, saving their realities. After twelve issues of battling the Anti-Monitor, this quantum physics violating cosmic epic ends with the Anti-Monitor being thrown into an exploding sun, resulting in a Big-Bang like effect that merges all the Earths into one. Everything is merged back together into just a single universe and none of the characters are the wiser about their past alternate versions, creating a perfect starting point for the new DC.

This George Perez cover has become one of the most iconic images of Supergirl.

Along the way, Supergirl and Barry Allen are among the many characters that sacrifice themselves to save the universe. The cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 is one of the most well-known comic book covers of all time, showing Superman’s anguish as he carries the body of his fallen cousin.

What was I talking about again?

Anyway, I love Crisis because it’s a great problem solving story. It resolved the issues of having a multiverse in a tidy manner, all the while giving a fresh start for characters. The resulting John Byrne run on Superman and the Justice League International are some of my favorite comic stories of all time.

Crisis also leads to the History of the DC Universe two-issue series, where Monitor’s assistant Harbringer chronicles the new history of the universe. It’s by Wolfman and Perez, and is a series of splash panels with paragraphs explaining the new continuity of DC’s Earth.

Let’s hope that Flashpoint works out this well.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#16 Trade Paper Backs

Trade Paperback Shelf!

Some of the trades that live on my bookshelf.

Trades, how I love thee. You make reading comics so much more convenient.

Just as much as I love going to pick up comics, I can get frustrated having to wait a whole month for the next installment. I get impatient. Sometimes I completely forget what happened in the last issue. Sometimes I keep picking up the same issue over and over again (Spider-Woman #27, I am talking about you).

But with trades (or TPBs or hardcovers or graphic novels or whatever you like to call them), you can pick up the whole story at once. If your willing to wait to read something, collected volumes of comics are so much more convenient.

They’re also more portable than carrying a stack of comics around with you. Its a lot easier to read Emperor Joker on an airplane as a trade, then having a whole pile of single issues. Also, if your on the subway reading an X-Men hardcover and are self conscious, you can slip the dust jacket off, and no one will know what your reading. Can’t do that with a floppy.

As you can see by my picture, I love trades. They fit so well on bookshelves.

Really, my favorite part of trades is that it makes it so much easier to share comics with your friends. Are you really enjoying the new Blue Beetle series? You can loan it to a friend to check out. Trying to impress a coworker about why comics are fun? You can have them borrow Sin City or 100 Bullets. I’ll have you know that my copy of Watchmen has made its way around my social circles numerous times.!

Obviously, you can stop by a comics shop or bookstore to pick some up. But consider checking out your public library as well. As this format has taken off, libraries have been stocking up on trades, as they can hold up to all the stress of being circulated. Check out WorldCat to find titles to read at a library near you.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#17 Toon Tumblers

Toon Tumblers at the Baltimore Comic Con (courtesy Toon Tumblers on Facebook)

If you wish you had a set of super hero pint glasses, much like the ones that 7-11 gave away as promotional items back in the 1970s, you are in luck. You need to start collecting Toon Tumblers.

Hey? Remember the 1970s? They're back...in barware form! (courtesy Toon Tumblers on Facebook)

These glasses are a heavy weight pint glass, just like the ones you would find at your friendly neighborhood bar. The glasses are either frosted or clear, and feature your favorite super heroes! Most of the art on the glasses is vintage, but occasionally they will have a more modern depiction. Recently they’ve made glasses featuring all of the Lantern Corps, as well as the soon to be relaunched Justice League.

Many comic book stores regularly carry Toon Tumblers, but I have found that for the best selection, visit their booth at most of the larger comic book shows. I love picking these up for myself and my friends, and I’ve spent many a day at the Baltimore Comic Con running through the Inner Harbor with a hand full of pint glasses.

If that sounds to dangerous, just go to their website and you can order them to be sent straight to your house.

For more information about upcoming Toon Tumblers and to see all the great pint glasses you should be getting, visit them at their website or search for Toon Tumblers on Facebook.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#18 Spider-Man Ride @ Universal Studios Florida

Sorry this is so late, but I enjoyed my holiday weekend and got a little behind in this blog business. Today’s adventures are actually blog-worthy, so you’ll find out what I was up to.

Today’s thing is the Spider-Man ride at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. The whole section is themed like a city straight out of a comic book, with giant graphics of your favorite Marvel characters.

The highlight of this section of the park is the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which is probably the closest any of us will ever get to being a super hero. The ride starts with you walking through the Daily Bugle building, which is filled with hidden referenced to Marvel’s history. After J. Jonah Jameson assigns you to get a Spidey story, your loaded into a vehicle and given 3D glasses.

Then things get real. Spidey’s worst villains have teamed up to make things dangerous, and its up to our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler to save the day.

The ride is a lot like Disney World’s Star Tours simulator, except the vehicle is open and moves on a track through various scenes projecting 3D images, combined with special effects like lasers, flame throwers and fog machines. Remember the tram vehicle? Well it shakes and spins to add to the effect, as well as an intense soundtrack.

This video does a better job describing everything that goes into this ride then I can. The visuals and effects are just amazing. Spidey also has his trademark sense of humor, which adds to the fun.

And at the end of the ride, make sure you look for the movie theater’s phone number. Make sure you give it a call after you get off the ride for some fun and chuckles.

In the Marvel section, there are some more standard low-tech theme park rides, like the Incredible Hulk Rollercoaster.(which is pretty crazy) and Storm’s Force Accelatron, a Mad Tea Party liked spinning ride themed after the X-Men.

Oh, then there was this thing–Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. After walking through his lab and seeing Doombots, it is revealed that Dr. Doom is harvesting fear and terror from park attendees for his diabolical needs. After being strapped to a chair, this ride shoots you up 150 feet into the air and you bounce around for a good minute, going up and down. I was literally scared to death, screaming a string of obscenities that would make even Lobo blush.

And I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but all the ride attendants were from Latvia. How could I tell? All the theme park workers have their home town shown on their name tags. If they weren’t, then kudos to Universal’s costuming department for adding this extra bit of authenticity.

The Marvel section also features an Avengers decorated food court, and a gift shop filled with TPBs, toys, shirts and more.

30 Things I Like About Comics—#19 Comic Book Spinner

Keith Bowman's comic book spinner
Keith Bowman’s comic book spinner (image  courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/tdba/)

How awesome were the old-timey spinner racks? They used to be found everywhere–newsstands, grocery stores, pharmacies. I’m just old enough to remember these being in 7-11′s, when as a treat I could pick up a comic book when going for a walk around the neighborhood with my parents.

With the advent of comic book stores, the spinner rack has seemingly become extinct. Comic book stores feature the floppies on wall shelves. Bookstores that carry comics usually do the same, and some Borders had monster spinner racks, but they weren’t as much fun and lacked the character of the wire racks.

Today, you can see them at comic book shows, as some of the dealers who are lucky enough to have one like to use it to display there wears. Sometimes you can find one on eBay, but they tend to be expensive (even more so if you take into account the cost of packing and shipping).

If I had the money and the space, I certainly would have one of these proudly on display. If anyone in the New Jersey area has a rack they are looking to giveaway, I would love it.

I’d be your best friend forever :).

30 Things I Like About Comics—#20 Happy Canada Day!

Sasquatch and Wolverine belt out "Oh Canada"

Sasquatch and Wolverine belt out "Oh Canada"

So how does Canada Day count as something I like about comics? Canada is a very important part of the comic book world for many different reasons!

The first and most obvious way is that the comic book world has seen its fair share of prominent comic book creators! This goes back as far as Joe Shuster–one of the co-creators of Superman! Did you now that John Byrne, Todd McFarlane, David Sim, Stuart Immonen and Hal Foster are just some of the great comic book artists that the Great White North has produced? Just imagine how much less fun comic books would be without them.

Although there are many Canadian super heroes (and super villains), Marvel has the most elaborate Canada in comics thanks to Byrne, who is graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design in Canada. Byrne’s first high-profile work was on Uncanny X-Men with Chris Claremont, where he created Alpha Flight, a super hero team mostly made of Canadians!

Sasquatch is one of the many proud Canadian super heroes.

Sasquatch is one of the many proud Canadian super heroes.

Alpha Flight was a project of the Canadian Department of National Defence’s Department H. Although the team’s lineup rotated, it usually featured Aurora and her twin brother Northstar (the first gay super hero), Arctic tundra goddess Snowbird, the gamma-radiation created man monster Sasquatch, and the diminutive Puck. Alpha Flight was the best of Canada’s three government organized super hero teams, ahead of Beta Flight and Gamma Flight. To continue the flightiness, there was even an Omega Flight, which was a group of villains who wanted to take out sometimes Alpha Flight leader Guardian.

Alpha Flight has been a staple of the Marvel Universe since introduced back in 1979. They’ve had countless on going and limited series through the years. But that’s not the only way Canada contributed to making super heroes.

The Canadian government also sponsored the ongoing top-secret Weapon X program, which recruits (and sometimes forces) mutants and humans and genetically modifies them into living weapons. Some of the most popular Canadian Weapon X products are Deadpool, Sabretooth and Wolverine, definitely the most popular Canadian super hero and arguably one of the top five!

Wolverine would be a monster on the blueline.

Wolverine would be a monster on the blueline.

Just as the real world Canada is allies with the United States, the same goes for the two nations in the Marvel Universe. Weapon X is the Canadian branch of the Weapons Plus Program, an agreement between the two nations to create super soldiers that goes back to World War II.

Grant Morrison added this new wrinkle to Weapon X during his run on New X-Men in the early 2000s. On the American side, their biggest success was the creation of the Super Soldier Syrum which powers Captain America.

So let’s celebrate Canada Day by honoring the country’s great comic creators and characters! Crank some Rush, drink a Molson if you want and have a great day!

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.

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.