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Monday, September 12, 2016

As I was saying...

Enter stage left, a middle-aged man wearing shorts and a plaid shirt. The room is lined with bookcases and boxes containing comic books. A television sits on a stand in one corner, with some Fraggle Rock DVDs on the stand as well. An open laptop sits on a small desk. The man fiddles with his cellular telemaphone until the opening number of the cast recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS can be heard, then sits in front of the laptop, looks at it with a quizzical expression that somehow mixes confusion with recognition with regret. He blows at the keyboard, raising a comical level of dust straight from an old Warner Brothers cartoon.

So, anyone still reading this thing? Might be hard, since I clearly haven't been writing it. Anyway, I hear tell that the comics internet is dead or dying (or should be killed, I'm unclear on the details), so I figured it's now the best time to get back in it. Plus there's a decent chance I'll get rid of both my Facebook and Twitter accounts by the end of the year, and I suppose I'll need someplace to be on-line, since I'm not sure that I exist in 2016 if I don't have that.

So let's get back into this with some short takes on the kinds of things I'll be posting about if this comeback turns out to be a real thing.

I remain delighted that after all these years I can still come across something as absurd as the cover of COUNT DUCKULA #8 (1989).
Talk show host Geraldo Rivera is doing a show investigating the long lost vault of bird gangster Al Capon and runs into Count Duckula. After touring the count's castle, Geraldo decides to do a special Halloween show on Count Duckula. But one special guest on the show causes a lot of problems in "Cry Me A Rivera" and "T.V. or Not T.V." 
That is a thing that exists. There are so many things wrong (and by wrong I mean great) with that. Plus, apparently Bill Sienkiewicz joins regular artist Warren Kremer (creator or definitive artist on most of the classic Harvey characters) on the artwork inside. I might have to pick this up sometime.

I've written before about issues concerning creators in comics getting appropriate credit for the creations (also appropriate compensation, but the financial aspect remains private unless the creators choose to talk about it, while the credit is by definition public). I'm glad that some positive changes have been made in that field over the last few years (if I ever figure out Tumblr look for more here). The biggest change would be that Marvel came to some agreement with the Jack Kirby family, so now he gets explicit credit as the creator or co-creator of most of his characters in the comics (at least a dozen books a month), and a more explicit credit in at least some of the screen adaptations. More recently they've begun to acknowledge Steve Ditko in print for co-creating Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, although I don't know if they decided to do that unilaterally or came to some agreement with Ditko.

The big change over at DC is the long overdue addition of Bill Finger to the Batman credit line, although with the more milquetoast "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger" wording rather than full co-creator status. I guess you take what tiny victories there are. The new version of the credit appears both in print and on screen. The Superman credit, meanwhile, changed a while ago in print to add the rather unwieldy line "by special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family" to the traditional "Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" credit. The credit has also expanded to at least some of the derivative characters like Supergirl.

Other than those big two, DC's a hodge-podge of acknowledged and unacknowledged creators, presumably based on exactly what their original contract said or subsequent negotiations with the creators have yielded. John Constantine recently got the rather specifically punctuated "created by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Jamie Delano & John Ridgway" (with no mention of Rick Veitch, artist of the first full story with JC). There was a run of the Young Justice cartoon where the Martian Manhunter went from uncredited to "created by Joe Samachson" to "created by Joe Samachson & Joseph Certa" to "created by Joseph Samachson & Joe Certa" (which seems to be the one they landed on). So the exact credits for each character can be in flux for a while.

Black Lightning has been in the news lately, which has brought to light that Tony Isabella has come to an agreement with DC that the credit line for the character will read "created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden", taking the same linguistic compromise they did with Finger for Batman. The credit was initially Isabella solo for several years, until DC made what appears to be a unilateral decision to add Von Eeden as full co-creator, which is how it stood until recently. The news around the character also brought out the since retracted claim from Gerry Conway that Robert Kanigher should also be co-credited with the character, based on some prior development work for a horrid rejected character named "The Black Bomber" with Conway as editor. Very bizarre.

The most amusing thing was Conway stating that "Yep. Like Trump, Bob [Kanigher] insisted he understood “the blacks,” so imagine a Trump-scripted black superhero." I'm sorry, I don't care how bad "Black Bomber" was (and in the larger view Kanigher is infinitely more accomplished than Conway, despite some missteps), is this really the creator of Vibe (the breakdancing hispanic gang member turned hero from Justice League Detroit) criticizing others for cultural insensitivity? Iz chu loco, gringo?

Of course, for me, any increase in credits only serves to spotlight the many characters published every week without any acknowledgement of their creators (I may be in the minority in that, I don't think most comic readers or viewers of comic based movies and TV shows care). If the Gordian Knots of Marvel credit for Kirby and Ditko and Batman credit for Finger can be solved, surely an accommodation can be reached so every character has an associated creator or creators?

Some comics I've actually read lately...

I read the first two collections of VELVET, the spy thriller by Steve Epting and Ed Brubaker, reprinting the first ten issues from Image Comics. The high concept of the series is "what if Moneypenny (from James Bond stories) was really a retired agent", and it hasn't really moved beyond that yet, but it moves fast, hits all the familiar notes in a somewhat fresh way and looks pretty good. I'll come back for a third.

BLOODHOUND: BRASS KNUCKLE PSYCHOLOGY is written by Dan Jolley, mostly drawn by Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs, with one issue by Eddy Barrows. Published by Dark Horse, it reprints nine of the ten issues of the series published by DC from 2004-2005 (one issue was a crossover with FIRESTORM so excluded, a few changes are made in other issues to eliminate DC universe references). The title character, Travis Clevinger, is a former cop, in jail for killing his partner as the series starts. He has some vaguely defined power to track down superhumans, and gets a deal from the FBI for his help on a case. I kind of liked this, although there are lots of pacing problems, and I'd agree with Kurt Busiek's introduction that it would seem to work better outside the DC universe. Which is where the second book is more firmly set. I liked this enough to check that out someday.

Speaking of Kurt Busiek, I read the first book of AUTUMNLANDS, his series with artist Benjamin Dewey. It's an epic-fantasy about a magic-based world with lots of different animal tribes who end up bringing a legendary champion back from the past. There's more than a hint of Jack Kirby's Kamandi in the set-up, but a very different feel in the structure and storytelling. I enjoyed this one a lot, looks like it's still a while before the second book comes out, but I'll be there. And one of these days I'll probably have to check in with Busiek's ASTRO CITY again.

The first I HATE FAIRYLAND collection reprints five issues from Skottie Young's Image series about a young girl who's been trapped for decades in an Oz/Wonderland type fantasy realm, not aging and constantly causing chaos in her inept attempts to complete the quest that will let her leave. Starts off pretty good, Young's a funny cartoonist (as seen in the adaptations of six Oz novels with writer Eric Shanower he did between 2008 and 2013) and he gets to really cut loose here with the violence and mayhem. Unfortunately, by about the end of #2 we've seen it all, and nothing really new happens until the climax of the book. That ending did promise something a little bit different in the next book, so I might still give that a try, which I wasn't expecting I'd say a dozen pages from the end of this one.

I recently read all four of Darwyn Cooke's PARKER books from IDW, adapting Donald Westlake's novels of the career criminal's various adventures. Well, re-read the first two, and newly read the last two. THE HUNTER is still mostly solid, sets up the visual style of the world nicely, hits most of the beats. It is one of the cases where I'm familiar with the source material (albeit from over a decade before I read the adaptation), and I think Cooke falls down on a few bits, especially the ending, while keeping a lot of the more dated aspects of the book.  THE OUTFIT is one I didn't much like when I first read it, and that continues this time. A few bits in the beginning are good (as I understand it that bit is an abbreviated adaptation of another novel, THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE), but I really didn't like the section of various heists being told in different styles. The ending is a bit better, but not enough to redeem the book.  The third book is THE SCORE, another where I'm distantly familiar with the source material, and is the best of the series. It's got a straight forward heist, some well presented details of the planning, the execution, the inevitable screw-ups and the resolution, all with some colourful characters. So with the best of feelings towards the series, I go into SLAYGROUND (which adapts that novel, and has a shorter adaptation of another book, THE SEVENTH). Very disappointing. It was a slog to get through, even though it's much shorter than the other books. Parker spends most of the story alone, trapped in an empty amusement park planning for his eventual confrontation with some other criminals, so you don't even get him playing off other characters, where the heart of the series lies. A few clever visual bits, as you usually get from Cooke, but not enough to redeem the book. The short adaptation of THE SEVENTH is a little better, but mostly inconsequential. 

Okay, that's enough for now. Maybe later some thoughts of MULTIVERSITY, WYTCHES, CHRONONAUTS, BLACK MAGICK, THEY'RE NOT LIKE US, MOON GIRL & DEVIL DINOSAUR, PAPER GIRLS, PATIENCE, NAMELESS, FIGHT CLUB 2, some of DC's "Rebirth" comics and more. If anyone is actually reading this, let me know what you'd like to know more about.

Let's see, how about TV. Mostly watching older stuff on DVD these days. The only "new" series I watched over the summer was PREACHER, and that mostly with trainwreck fascination. I'm not a huge fan of the source material, but I did think it had some good points, especially in the first year of the book. The TV show captured almost none of those, in either substance or tone.

Older stuff, I watched the first four seasons of VEEP, and really enjoyed it. Fast, funny, with lots of unexpected twists. Watching some of the other HBO sitcoms occasionally too (SILICON VALLEY, GIRLS, ENTOURAGE) and like some aspects of each, but VEEP is definitely the stand-out among those. Even better than CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, which I watched last year. Although all still pale next to LARRY SANDERS.

Rewatched the first few seasons of KEY & PEELE, which were as amazing as always. Possibly my favourite sketch show of all time, one of the few to regularly have episodes where every single sketch worked, and I can watch multiple times. Also in sketch, watching some PORTLANDIA, INSIDE AMY SCHUMER and CHAPPELLE'S SHOW. All have some great material, but can really be hit or miss, and almost always have at least one sketch per show that drags (I'd only watched "Best of" episodes of CHAPPELLE before, and didn't realize how huge the disparity between the "Best of" and the "Average of" was.

Watched the last few seasons of LOUIE and THE LEAGUE. Both shows on FX. Both shows I enjoyed the early seasons of. And both shows pretty awful in the final years. Almost painful just how little of what worked on both shows was still in evidence at the end.

Been rewatching MAD MEN, in anticipation for watching the final season for the first time soon. At its best, which is frequent, the show is great, maybe one of the best dramas ever. But almost every season has one or two episodes I can't stand, and which make me consider stopping cold. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the final season, based on some stuff I've heard about it, but at this point I need the closure.

The only talk show I was watching consistently start to finish was THE NIGHTLY SHOW (Wilmore). With that gone, I usually watch about an average of half of each DAILY SHOW (Noah), a third of THE LATE SHOW (Colbert), a quarter of each LATE LATE SHOW (Corden), CONAN (O'Brien), maybe a few minutes of THE TONIGHT SHOW (Fallon) and LATE NIGHT (Meyers). Gives me almost a complete hour when none of them are in repeats...

And, as mentioned up top, I can always make time for an old FRAGGLE ROCK or MUPPET SHOW.

Should probably watch some more movies, but then I'm not terribly impressed with what I have been watching. I did kind of enjoy some of the kids movies I saw with my niece (ZOOTOPIA, FINDING DORY, GHOSTBUSTERS), which is almost the only time I go to a theatre rather than waiting for home viewing.  The best movie I've seen recently was probably SPOTLIGHT, but given that I'm comparing it to BATMAN V SUPERMAN, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, THE HATEFUL EIGHT and DEADPOOL that might not be high praise. I think I might go back to old movies for a while. There are a bunch of supposedly good ones I've never seen, and a few great ones I could always stand to rewatch.

As long as we're going around the horn, music. I spent most of the summer listening to the Broadway cast album of HAMILTON, well over 100 times. Since then my most common playlist has been HAMILTON (minus a few songs), IN THE HEIGHTS (Lin-Manuel Miranda's previous musical), five versions of LES MISERABLES (minus Javert solos from the film), two versions of SWEENEY TODD and two versions of WEST SIDE STORY. So lots of showtunes. I'm sure I'll get over it soon, and go back to mostly Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and classic rock, where my tastes mostly atrophied circa 1990.

Spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, as well. Generally I listen to every episode of Never Not Funny, SklarBro Country, House To Astonish and Extra Hot Great, and select episodes (depending on subject/guest) of WTF, The Majority Report, The Comic Book Page Podcast, Comedy Bang Bang, Wait What, Maltin on Movies, Doug Loves Movies and a few others.

Well, that's more than enough, possibly crossing over into too much. See you either tomorrow, or sometime next year.

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