Sunday, April 22, 2018

Turning the rusting crank on the old weblog machine...

So, where was I...

Maybe that should be the name of this weblog.

Time for one of those infrequent attempts to get posting on here more often, this time spurred on by my displeasure over most other on-line venues. One recently went belly-up, taking with it years of discussions. Most others I find to be problematic on a technical, aesthetic or political level, often all three. Thinking back, I realized I was most satisfied with ol' blogger (although there are some political questions with the parent corporation) for my particular needs, which are mostly to get things down for my own personal later reference, and if those thoughts manage to entertain or inform anyone else that's an agreeable but ultimately non-essential side-effect. So I figured I'd try using it for a little while while I explore alternatives, maybe prepare to migrate whatever content from the archives is worth saving to the alternative in the future. Right now I'm thinking occasional omnibus posts with short comments on various subjects interspersed with longer articles on specific things I want to write about, and eventually bringing in a few of the regular features I used to have.

Some housekeeping, I've changed the layout because something in the old one was apparently causing the page to load very slowly on some systems. If anyone is still reading, feel free to let me know if there are any problems with the new layout, and have some patience while I do some tweaking around the edges.

I've remained mostly on a moratorium on acquiring any newly published paper, comic book or otherwise, for the last little while, with some exceptions which I'll probably discuss sooner or later. I do still pick up quite a few back-issue comics if the price is right (rarely going over $2 a single issue or $10 for a collection) and it fills in some hole in my collection.  Lately that's meant a lot of 1980s DC stuff, finally completing a run of OMEGA MEN, coming close on NEW TEEN TITANS, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, THE OUTSIDERS and ACTION COMICS WEEKLY, and for $5 I wasn't going to say no to the SQUADRON SUPREME collection, even though I have the original issues, as that 1980s Marvel printing doesn't age well, and it has the CAPTAIN AMERICA crossover issue I was missing.

For new stuff I'm mostly relying on the local library system, which has a pretty great selection of print books available, plus through the Hoopla and Libby apps a very large collection of digital comics.  Plus I'm occasionally buying stuff digitally on sale or though deals like Humble Bundle. I've gone digital on the last few serialized holdouts I was getting in print, GROO and USAGI YOJIMBO, and get a few other serialized comics when they're on sale, like MONSTRESS and BLACK MAGICK, though I am several issues behind on reading all of those. For the past few weeks Marvel's been undermining their retail partners by putting recent books, with print prices as high as $75, on sale for $1, and I've been happy to take advantage of that. Although so far they've mostly added to the backlog of stuff to read. I have been making my way through the collections of 1950s horror anthologies they had on sale, which are often fun, if slightly clumsy.

Been trying to catch up on movies that I've missed over the last few years, as well as some older stuff I never got around to only have vague memories of.  Maybe longer comments on a few of them later, but for now:

I thought WONDER WOMAN (2017) was pretty entertaining, far more than most modern super-hero movies, although not without a few problems, mostly the related to the parts of its DNA shared with the other DC movies of late. Overall about 75% of the way to a good movie, which is pretty close.

I wasn't as impressed with SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING (2017). While parts of it were better than most of the previous Spider-Man movies (I'd have to go back and see if the first two Raimi directed ones hold up, and if either has enough good stuff or I'm just mentally combining the two), overall I'm not sure that they got the point of Spider-Man, certainly not if their idea was to give him an Iron Man suit and computer guide.

I really enjoyed ETHEL & ERNEST (2016), based on the 1998 Raymond Briggs book that I discussed here. It captured most of what worked in the book, with a pleasing visual style and some very effective voice acting. I wasn't completely taken with some aspects of the animation style, so that while I might have like each frame in a sequence taken in isolation, it sometimes bothered me how things moved in the actual movie. But that's a minor complaint, overall I'd definitely recommend watching it after reading the book.

I guess that'll do for a start.  Some possible upcoming topics, comics including THE ETERNAUT, HERO SQUARED, PLANET HULK, ASTRO CITY, a few TV shows I've been watching including AMERICAN GODS, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, BETTER CALL SAUL, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, THE GOOD PLACE, some more detailed thoughts on a few movies, a discussion about the state of digital comics and other stuff.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sam Glanzman, R.I.P.

A farewell to Sam Glanzman (1924 - 2017), an excellent comic book writer/artist with a career stretching back to his teen years and including numerous classics in various genres, plus casting a large shadow in his influence on later generations of artists.

I came to his work relatively late, as I didn't read too many of the DC war comics as a kid, when that was the primary place his work was published. As I started to get into them in reprints and back issues around 1990, I noticed that I really liked a lot of the short story back-ups from the 1970s, especially those that fell into two groups, "Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War" (with various artists, most frequently Ric Estrada) and "U.S.S. Stevens", written and drawn by Sam Glanzman. As my collecting expanded I became more familiar with a lot of Glanzman's past work, as well as the new work he continued to produce almost to the end of his life, although I've still only scratched the surface on his full body of work.

I also had the pleasure of meeting him once, and had a few brief e-mail encounters with him, and am happy to own a few original pieces by him, including the 2003 Kona sketch above.

In the 1960s he worked primarily for Charlton and Dell. Notable work includes a lot of war comics for both companies, including most issues of Dell's COMBAT. Also for Dell, he did the full 21 issue run of KONA, MONARCH OF MONSTER ISLE, a sometimes bizarre but always exciting fantasy adventure book with some very innovative storytelling and character design. Two notable Charlton projects were HERCULES (with Joe Gill and others) and a short run on TARZAN which was produced under the mistaken impression that the character had lapsed into the public domain. One of the most notable features he did was an on-going WWII adventure "The Lonely War of Willie Schultz" with Will Franz (there was talk of Franz and Glanzman doing a conclusion to the story a few years back, anyone know if it was ever published?).

In 1970 Glanzman began working for DC, primarily on their war comics. The most notable are the 58 U.S.S. Stevens short stories he wrote and drew, most of them only 4 pages and published from 1970 to 1977. Based on his experiences on the ship during WWII, they provide a vivid and fascinating account, with a variety of storytelling styles. The stories range from the comedic to the tragic, look at the mundane aspects of life on board the ship, provide philosophical musings and describe many colourful characters.  In terms of volume, Glanzman's main work was on the Haunted Tank feature in G.I. COMBAT, taking over from co-creator Russ Heath in 1972, mostly working with co-creator Robert Kanigher (briefly with writer Archie Goodwin), until the cancellation of the feature in 1987, drawing over 200 stories. Just after that he drew two of the last issues of DC's flagship war book, SGT. ROCK, which are really nice. In addition to the war books, Glanzman also drew a number of fantasy/horror stories, writing a few of them, and also working with Sheldon Mayer on one interesting dual narrative story from 1972.

As the DC war books wrapped up in the 1980s, Glanzman began doing some work for Marvel, continuing the auto-biographical WWII stories with some short stories in SAVAGE TALES and two full length A SAILOR'S STORY books, as well as some stories by other writers in SEMPER FI' and THE 'NAM. He also wrote and drew a complex sci-fi adventure called ATTU (two books published in 1989/1990, the third finally included in a complete edition last year). He also worked as a strong inker on a few books, most notably over Tim Truman on three JONAH HEX stories written by Joe Lansdale for Vertigo and a few issues of TUROK. There were a lot of other projects, including working with Lansdale on the western RED RANGE (soon to be reprinted in colour), another western with James MacCormick called WEST OF THE DAKOTAS and an unfinished Robin Hood story with Roger Broughton called THIEF OF SHERWOOD. He also did a few more U.S.S. Stevens stories over the years, including those in JOE KUBERT PRESENTS.

Fortunately a lot of Glanzman's work was finally reprinted in the recent past (ATTU, A SAILOR'S STORY and U.S.S. STEVENS, with RED RANGE upcoming), thanks largely to Drew Ford, who has been raising some money lately to help with some expenses on Glanzman's final illness and publish a tribute book.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

James Vance, R.I.P.

Sorry to hear about the passing of comic book writer James Vance. Neil Gaiman has a few recollections, including a link to a fund-raiser for his family.

Vance is best known for his Great Depression set comic with Dan Burr from the 1980s, KINGS IN DISGUISE, and the sequel ON THE ROPES published in 2013 (I wrote about it here), both based on a supporting character from a play he'd written in 1979. Some excellent comics. The illustrations above are Harvey Kurtzman's cover to #2 of the original serialization and a short KINGS story from Vance and Burr from the benefit comic IMAGES OF OMAHA #1 [1992]. Shortly after KINGS he wrote OWLHOOTS with artist John Garcia, a western  set in the early 20th century (with flashbacks to the 19th century) about an aging marshal looking to make a movie about his life. Unfortunately it was unfinished due to low sales, with only two of six issues published.

Before ON THE ROPES, Vance and Burr reunited for a short story in THE SPIRIT - THE NEW ADVENTURES #2 [1998], which is a nice little romp for Will Eisner's character. Vance's most "mainstream" work was probably the Batman story he wrote (as he said, for a chance to work with editor Archie Goodwin) in BATMAN - LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #80 - #82 [1996], with artists Doug Braithwaite and Sean Hardy. Set early in the career of the vigilante created by Bill Finger (with Bob Kane), it has several nice scenes of Bruce Wayne interacting with Alfred and Captain Gordon. Vance also worked on James O'Barr's creation the Crow with artist Alexander Maleev in THE CROW - FLESH AND BLOOD #1 - #3 [1996], featuring the first female Crow, a murdered government agent Iris Shaw seeking revenge against right-wing militia types.

One of Vance's longer works in comics was on NEIL GAIMAN'S MR. HERO THE NEWMATIC MAN #1 [1995-1996] for Tekno-Comix, with artist Ted Slampyak and others developing some concepts Gaiman came up with. The company seems to have been a bit chaotic, but some of the comics I've read were pretty decent. Read some of the messiness on the company end on Vance's blog, starting here. Vance also wrote some interesting stuff in ALIENS - SURVIVAL [1998] with artist Guy Davis and he and Kate Worley co-wrote PREDATOR - HOMEWORLD [1999] for artists Toby Cypress and Mark Lipka, both pretty decent genre tales based on the concepts from the movies.

Vance also finished up writing OMAHA THE CAT DANCER after Kate Worley passed away, based on her notes for creator/artist Reed Waller, doing good work that seamlessly fit in with Worley's earlier stories and wrapping up the long-running saga.

And I'll just finish with a few words from Alan Moore's introduction to KINGS IN DISGUISE:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Good Miracle Monday

A quick reminder to remember to set a place at the table for Superman tonight, the classic Miracle Monday tradition, as seen in this story from SUPERMAN #400 [1984] by Elliot S! Maggin and Klaus Janson.

Next year in Metropolis!

And if for some reason you've never read them, pick up Maggin's two Superman novels, LAST SON OF KRYPTON and MIRACLE MONDAY.  Hm, looks like there may be a new edition of MIRACLE MONDAY...

(Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster)

Recently Read 2017.05.14 (Mooncop, Roughneck, Astro City, Fray, Ex Machina)

This is a recent book by Tom Gauld, best known for his single page comics as collected in YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK.  This time around he takes on a longer narrative, with the story of an unnamed police officer who has a quiet beat on a lunar colony that's long past its prime and slowly winding down.

This was an engaging little story, very quiet in tone, using the science fiction elements to address personal issues of loss and loneliness and changing times. At the same time, it was also very funny, with a lot of unexpected little jokes which take advantage of the lunar setting, and couldn't work if the same story was told about a slowly disappearing small rural town.

Very highly recommended, one of the best new comics I've read recently.

This is Jeff LeMire's newest comic, and the first book from Simon&Schuster's new comic book imprint Gallery 13. It's a return in subject matter to one of LeMire's earlier works, the 2007/2008 ESSEX COUNTY trilogy of short works. In the interim LeMire has amassed quite a varied resume in comics, with a lot of writing on work-for-hire super-hero books for various publishers and writing or writing/drawing various original genre works.  I've tried some of his super-hero and other genre work, but didn't really find most of it that engaging, other than DESCENDER with artist Dustin Nguyen which has a promising start and I need to catch up on.  I do recall liking ESSEX COUNTY as a promising but somewhat rough-hewn work, but it's been almost a decade since I've read it and my memory is dim.

Like ESSEX COUNTY, this is a story set in small town Ontario, this time up north rather than the south-west, featuring a former professional hockey player, having been thrown out of the league years ago for excessive violence, now back in his home town, living in the local arena and barely managing his drinking and anger control issues. His life gets complicated by the return of his younger sister who ran away several years earlier, with circumstances leading to the two of them hiding out in an even more remote cabin.

I generally liked this, and overall it felt much more confidently drawn and skillfully told than I recall ESSEX COUNTY being. The characters felt real and complex in their reactions to the various forces that compel their actions, and LeMire made good use of a limited colour palette for most of the story with vivid colours for (mostly) the flashbacks. I did think the looming specter of the sister's abusive boyfriend approaching the town felt a bit forced in a "Lifetime movie" way, but I guess it paid off in the end. Definitely worth a read.

EX MACHINA Volumes 1-5
This set of books collects the 50 issue series (plus four specials) published between 2004 and 2010, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, with a few other artists like John Paul Leon and Chris Sprouse on the specials and Tom Feister, Jim Clark and Karl Story on inks.

The story is about an engineer named Mitchell Hundred who gets the powers to talk to machines from a mysterious device, briefly operates as the super-hero The Great Machine (in a world without other super-heroes) and then gets elected the Mayor of New York City in 2001. The story flips back and forth between his single term as Mayor and flashbacks to the past, mostly his time as The Great Machine.

This was a pretty uneven run of comics. The premise is pretty strong, mixing sci-fi/super-hero concepts with a sort of WEST WING political drama, and is occasionally realized, but just as often one of the elements derails the other.  I also thought the number of interesting stories that Vaughan had to tell in the flashbacks was a lot more limited than the amount of space he gave to them, and he could have dropped the whole flashback gimmick after a dozen or so issues, or used it much more sparingly throughout (oddly also a complaint I had about the TV show LOST, which Vaughan wrote on for a while). Anyway, the series has mix of successful stories, ambitious but flawed stories and complete misfires for the first four books, and then pretty much collapses in the final book, which mostly revolves around the source of Hundred's powers and all that follows from that. I'm not a big fan of Harris's art, but it is pretty well suited to the subject matter and occasionally quite striking (I like Sprouse and Leon more, but they were pretty odd choices for the specials). There were a few rough bits late in the run, I think the first few that Harris inked himself, but he seemed to have settled down there quickly enough.

Worth checking out the first book at least, maybe the second.

This is the fourteenth and most recent collection of the the long running series by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Brent Anderson (and more recently other artists, but all these issues are drawn by Anderson, with Alex Ross doing the covers). This collects #26, #29-30 and #32-34 of the currently running series.

I was a big fan of the series when it launched back in 1995, for a short while it was probably my favourite on-going comic (back when I read a lot of on-going comics in their original serialized form), but fell off quite a while ago for various reasons, mostly the launch of what ended up being a 16-issue story when my preference for the series was always the single issue stories.

This particular collection features three stories. The first is a 20th anniversary sequel to the very first issue of ASTRO CITY from 1995, with the character Samaritan starting to have some issues with his dreams of flying which were the focal point of his debut story and getting some help from some of the other heroes in dealing with them. This was a pretty enjoyable re-introduction to the series, with a lot of familiar faces and a few intriguing strangers, and also seemed to be setting up some future stories which I don't think have been published yet.

The second story is a two-parter featuring the First Family, a Kirbyesque family of adventurer/super-heroes. Or rather it features a child on an alien planet which has had its various attempts to conquer Earth over the years foiled by the First Family, and who thus has a rather skewed version of them from the propaganda of his leaders. His beliefs are challenged when he meets one of the Family injured on a rescue mission. This was my favourite story in the collection, and reminded me of most of what I liked about the series back in the day.

The final story is a three-parter featuring the return of Steeljack, the lead of the early AC story "The Tarnished Angel". A former super-villain gone straight after serving his time, he gets dragged into a slightly convoluted story involving old acquaintances and super-villain memorabilia. While this story had a few good bits, I thought it went on a bit too long and was definitely my least favourite in the collection.

Overall a pretty decent book, I'll definitely try a few more of the books I missed or some future collections.

This is a collection of the 8 issue series published from 2001 to 2003 written by Joss Whedon and drawn by Karl Moline and Andy Owens. It's a spin-off of Whedon's BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER TV series, set several hundred years in the future with the emergence of the first Slayer in a while, a girl named Melaka Fray. I recall it was pretty well spoken of back when it was published, but at the time I hadn't really watched any episodes of the show. I finally did watch them a few years ago, and have been thinking of trying the comic book "seasons" that have been coming out over the last few years, so I figured I'd start with this.

A bit of an odd book, as for the first half I thought the plotting was very strong, with some really good ideas and world-building for this future world and the characters, but I thought a lot of the execution was kind of clumsy (I think this was the first comic book of any major length that Whedon wrote). As we go along the scripting gets steadily stronger, but that's when the cracks begin to appear in the structure, and things don't seem to be quite so interesting and logical. A lot of things don't work in the big final battle and the overall resolution, although they read much better than the early issues. Moline and Owens provide some balance to the whole thing, remaining steadily solid but unspectacular throughout.

At this point I'm not sure if I'll read any of the other BUFFY comics (a few of which I know feature Fray returning to meet Buffy in some sort of time-travel adventure) based on this. Maybe, but not for a while I think.
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