Monday, June 9, 2014

A road more often travelled

There have been many supermen besides Superman. By that I mean there have been many comic book characters meant to stand-in for the Man of Steel. For various reasons. Some wish to pay tribute to the character with a loving homage, some want to feature Superman in situations not approved by DC comics, or some simply wish to pit their own characters against Superman, by creating a superman like character. There are many, Hyperion, Gladiator, Titan, Supreme, Sentry, Mr. Majestic, The Samaritan, Superior, Omni-Man, Icon, Plutonian, even Crossgen had a Mightyman. Some might claim Fawcett's Captain Marvel, DC certainly did, bringing the publisher to court years before eventually and most ironically buying the character. An argument could be made for others like Prime and Mightyman, though they are more specifically based on Fawcett's Captain Marvel.

As a kid I noticed Marvel and DC comics both have similar versions of many of their distinguished competitions popular heroes or villains. Batman, inspired many imitators. Marvel's Nighthawk, and Moon Knight, Charlton's Blue Beetle. Fawcett's Captain Marvel was a little boy until he said the magic word, "Shazam" and Marvel comic's Captain Marvel was Rick Jones until he clanged those nega  bands together. Mr. Fantastic was Stan Lee's homage to Plastic Man. The Submariner, Aquaman. Green Arrow, Hawkeye. Flash, Quicksilever, Atom, Ant-man. Darksied, Thanos. The Shi'ar Imperial Guard and the Legion of Superheroes. The Swamp-thing and Man-thing arrived on the scene within a few months of each other. Many of these are homages, or just simply copycatting, some are similar in powers only. And These days with companies buying up older publishers, many characters have purchased their doppelgangers, and now even feature multiple comic-cousins within their own continuities, just look at the vast proliferation of speedsters in the DCU.

My very first recollection of this was The Squadron Supreme, a Marvel Comic's version of the Justice League. Originally The Squadron Sinister it was a way to have The Avengers fight The JLA.  But then came Mark Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme, which was an alternative universe version designed to tell a JLA story that couldn't be told for more than just legal reasons. In part homage but it was also something cynical, darker. Something that you wouldn't see in the regular JLA comics of that time. Many years later DC would copy the copycats and have the JLA fight alternative universe versions of the JLA. The Crime Syndicate Of America, and even the animated Justice Lords.

Even though it came out around the same time as Mark Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme, I wouldn't read The Watchmen until a few years later. The Watchmen was originally to be a book featuring the Charlton pantheon of characters. But as many of you already know, the powers that had been at DC at the time, felt it might be a might not be prudent to be killing off many of those only recently acquired characters in the very series designed to introduce them into the DCU. But they liked the story, so they tasked Alan Moore with  creating new but similar characters to fill the roles in his story.

Nearly all of Alan Moore's celebrated career has been populated with doppelgangers of one kind or another. In the League of Extraordinary Gentleman he dispenses with the practice entirely in favor of just using public domain characters, and thinly veiled reference whenever a character might be still legally prohibited for his use. One of the most notable for me was his run on Rob Liefeld's Supreme. A beautiful warts and all homage to Superman and the history of superhero comics. Deconstructing and rebuilding everything we all loved about Superman as a kid.

So it's pretty safe to say that this is well trodden ground. And when I say "well" I'm meaning well, as not just often, but masterfully. Considerable talented great masters of the medium like Astro City's Kurt Busiek, have not just visited this hallowed ground but stayed and set up huge industrial mining operations here.

There was supposed to be a review in here somewhere, wasn't there?

In a niche publishing industry, dominated by one genre, already drowning in the derivative and self-referencial, Edison Rex by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver is great fun. They take a new path, parallel to but not too far from the extremely well beaten one, sneaking in the exit, going the wrong way against the other traffic. Bringing some new life and some considerable charm to the familiar Superman homage by giving us a different point a view. Luthor's.

Unlike the novel "Soon I Will Be Invincible" by Austin Grossman, which splits it's POV between two perspectives, the arch-villain and first day-on-the-job, newbie superhero. Edison Rex is told exclusively from a villain's point of view. And despite that, or ironically more because of that, Edison Rex is a much lighter work than Supreme. (More like Moore's Tom Strong than Supreme). Told with more wonder and without the heavy weight of history. And much more engaging than the film, Mega Mind where the main character is also a villain who also switches sides, Edison Rex is happy, renewed and unburdened for the first time in years. He undergoes a transformation that paints the whole  well-conceived and textured universe with humor and joy. Which is in no small part the perfect blend of writing and art, but also largely thanks to a wonderfully conceived sidekick. 

Edison Rex is great fun! A wonderful trip walking the wrong direction down a well trod path. Edison Rex Volume 1: Into the White, and Edison Rex Volume 2: Heir Apparent both by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver. Published by IDW and Monkeybrain Comics as far as I know. The TPB editions are full of lots of fun extras, secret character files, a parody of the old Hostess comic ads, faux covers, pin-ups, and lots of great art and concept sketches and more!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Legendary "Mad" man


Al Feldstein Legendary EC Comics, writer/artist, and Mad Magazine editor died yesterday at 88...

I had only discovered EC later in my comics reading life. Like discovering jazz or classical music as you get older, when people begin looking for something more than the juvenile mainstream they've seemingly outgrown.

For the last decades or so, I've been on the lookout for those cheap EC reprints. Some were comics size, some almost treasury size, others were bound together under new covers. I spent many a happy Saturday over the years cleaning out more than a few bargain bins, until the local comic shop owner at the time noticed, and put them up on a better display and marked up the price.

Now that I'm a little older I tried collecting the various hard cover editions. I got a few of the Gemstone editions, very very nice but expensive. But, I liked best the series by Fantagraphics, each featuring a particular artist/writer. I have the books featuring Al Williams, and Johnny Craig. A little while back, I picked up the volume featuring Al Feldstein, ("Child of Tomorrow and other stories by Al Feldstein"). I had set it aside until just recently, when I ran across an illustration by Al Feldstein, in a trade collection of classic western stories done by contemporary artists, (Western Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 20). It was just a single page illustration but it reminded me to pick up the EC collection. Happily this past week I had just finished reading it, so Mr. Feldstein's work is still quite fresh in my mind.

These editions are my favorites not only because they focus on one artist/writer, but because they are reprinted in B&W. Some people don't get it or prefer to replicate the original reading experience, but I think you can better appreciate the art without the color. The line work, the compositions are clear and crisp, without being muted by the color inks over the blacks or in some editions you see the bleed through from the page art on the other side, as the pages have been improperly scanned. And I've really enjoyed reading this volume, studying every page, Al Feldstein's art and writing were what comics should aspire to.

Al Feldstein, was a wonderfully talented story teller.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Flash Gordon returns! Again!

This past week, Dynamite introduced another Flash Gordon series. The last one was not perfect but still highly enjoyable and loosely based on the '80's Sam Jones version combining much of the known Flash universe comic strip elements with the fun,  stylized movie version. Complete with Klytus!

Spinning of from the recent "King's Watch" Mini series, which reintroduced Flash and his companions as well as Mandrake and the Phantom. This new Flash comic, by Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner is more traditional, in part homage while still fresh and striking out on it's own. Much like Shaner's art, classic without being dated. The comic is great fun, with the great wonder of the old comicstrips and thensome, invoking a grand adventurous style not often seen in comics anymore. This is in no small part to the clean crisp, classic style of "Doc" Shaner's art, absolutely beautiful honest-to-goodness old fashioned adventure cartooning, reminiscent of Alex Toth, Paul Smith, or more recently Francesco Francavilla.

Flash Gordon one of the best new comics I've seen in a long while. If you liked Francesco Francavilla's Black Beetle (Dark Horse), you will find this just as fun but in a sci-fi way!

Seriously, I mean it and buy everything this man draws...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Look! Up on the shelf...

Have you ever really liked a band, comedian or an artist or anyone creative for that matter, followed their work for a while and then had some hipster store clerk let you know they think the new stuff is crap and that they like their early work better?

Because everyone knows all artsier-than thou retail store clerks are psychic, they can look at you and your purchases and know for a fact you couldn't possibly have any taste. Success ruins anything and anyone with a job buying current works of anything or anyone good must just now be jumping on the band wagon.

Well, hold on to your Barrista apron...

Sure Superman is everywhere. Always has been. These days he's got gritty new costumes, and he's fighting planets and rapey new versions of older villains. He's starring in TV shows, cartoons, big budget movies with big budget stars and snazzy computer  effects. But I like his early work much better.

Sure the earlier work it was rough around the edges, crude in it's execution, still inventing itself, possibly even unrecognizable in some ways to modern comics readers. But this is a Superman who takes on real issues, the important issues of his time, and while the stories and characters are simplistic, way smaller in scale than the mass genocides and mega-crossover epics of today, they are seemingly loftier and more important. More real. The villains and perils were part of peoples real lives. Our lives. Bullies, corporate fat-cats, union busters, corrupt businessmen and politicians.  The  hero in these tales, is saving us.

What could be more relevant today, as we face frustrating unemployment, and underemployment, during the greatest income disparity we've ever known. Bankers and Wallstreeters admitting to corruption, yet paying no real price as the real victims lose their homes, their retirement savings. Corrupt politicians infringing on peoples rights. Senseless mass violence. So many of the hardships we suffer today harken back to the days when we could see a still rough around the edges super man standing up for the little guy.

DC Comics has been re-printing of the earliest Golden Age Superman adventures in a series of books called Superman Chronicles. You can still find them online, or in your local comics shop or local booksellers. I highly recommend you do. I've read the first five volumes already, and they are great fun.

Some other time we'll talk about the old time radio show or the early animated shorts. Or George Reeves...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Orange is the new black & white

About a week ago I'm watching one of the weekend shows on MSNBC.

Something is off. And it isn't the lack of bars on the windows and doors. It isn't the fact that neither of the respected journalists is wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. It isn't even the fact that I'm watching MSNBC on a weekend, without having to quickly change channels to hunt for something that at least passes for news on the weekend. They are apparently toying with broadcasting shows that don't have prisoners crying and unloading their emotional traumas through a small hole in their prison cell door.

I'm watching a great news show, and next is Alex Witt about interview Rachel Maddow @maddow on the Weekends with Alex Witt, on .

But that's still not what's bugging me. Something is off. I'm not seeing something.

So I paused the thing.

Then I see it, the "Zot!" logo.

There it is on the spine of one of the books on a shelf behind Alex Witt in the office where they are conducting the informal weekend style interview. (MSNBC is apparently toying with shows that don't have pundits crying and unloading their emotional issues neatly spaced around a oddly shaped plexiglass table).

Zot! is a comic book created back in the eighties, by Scott McCloud, published by Eclipse Comics. A lighthearted alternative to the grim and gritty, more violent comics of the time. More recently collected into the omnibus edition seen above on the MSNBC shelves. We here at the Weekly League News are all too lazy to do anything to confirm it's either Rachel Maddow's or Alex Witt's office. Maybe we'll tweet a question to one or more of the intrepid journalists, when we get a chance.

Either way we here at the Weekly League News are just happy to see such a great classic collection, in such a context. On the shelf of an intelligent, attractive, accomplished and successful female journalist. Either Witt or Maddow either will do. We are all to often subjected to media outlets quick to reinforce the clich├ęd portrayals of comic book readers, as sad, asthmatic nerds with little to no upper body strength. Thank you Big Bang Theory.

Anyway, go buy a copy of Scott McCloud's ZOT! The Complete Black and White Collection and bring it with you to Rachel Maddow's next book signing! And check out MSNBC's new weekend programming, featuring Alex Witt, Steve Kornacki, Melissa Harris-Perry, Karen Finney all morning and afternoon. But don't stress if you liked all the prison docs, they are on in the evenings still.