Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Look at the size of that frickin' monkey!

That crazy bastard Scipio Garling of The Absorbascon and Devon Sanders of Seven Hells! have joined forces in an unholy pact and started a comic book store empire. Well, okay - it's two comic book stores, one in Fredericksburg, VA and one in Washington, DC. Their empire extends beyond the retail realm and into cyberspace with the launch of their Big Monkey Comics website, now featured on the sidebar.

Devon and Scipio are swell guys and I command you all to visit their site and to go buy stuff from their stores. You! Yes, you, the guy who's reading this in Sao Paulo, Brazil! Get on a plane and fly to D.C. and buy some comic books from them. The same goes to you, Mr. Melbourne Australia. Living an entire hemisphere away is no excuse not to patronize Big Monkey Comics! And their fledgling website is pretty darn cool, too, so be a pal and stop by for a look-see.

My pimping work is done here.

NEW MUTANTS #40 Marvel Comics, 1986

Say what you want about Chris Claremont, but the guy wrote some great superhero fight scenes.

I don’t read X-Men books much anymore (I made an exception for Morrison and Whedon’s stuff) but back in the day, Young Dave ate the mutant stuff up with a spoon. Claremont’s mutant slugfests were always well constructed and thought out, and darn it, you actually cared about how they turned out. One of Claremont’s greatest gifts was his ability to underpin his superhero sagas with real emotion. Sometimes his writing suffered from histrionics and melodrama, but more often than not he hit the mark and effectively created characters and situations that made readers emotionally invest in the story.

Case in point: New Mutants #40.

This is the era when Professor X is off in space somewhere and his school is under the benign control of the reformed Magneto, the X-Men’s greatest foe. I really loved this whole “good Magneto” phase – Claremont clearly loves the character and did a great job exploring the inner turmoil and outer conflict of a “villain” who tries to do the right thing. Magneto may be a bastard, but he’s a bastard with principles. He vowed to Professor X to take care of his young mutant students, which means playing by Professor X’s rules and not blowing people up and shit. Magneto promised to play nice, and he’s not going to break his word.

" the eighties Chris Claremont was The Sh*t. On toast."

Stuff like this really resonated with me when I was a kid – Claremont wrote operatic stories about honor, loyalty, family, love, and closet lesbianism – and he threw in big super-brawls on top of all that. It’s what made the X-Men books stand out from all the other monthly titles the Big Two were publishing at the time; they had heart.

Sure, all of us geeks can make fun of Claremont’s penchant for mind-control and astral combat and his distinctive dialogue tics. I don’t read a lot of his stuff these days, but the common criticism is that his writing style hasn’t aged well and his current work seems repetitive and almost self-parodying. Maybe that’s true – but man, in the eighties Chris Claremont was The Shit. On toast.

But enough preambling. We’re not here to talk about Claremont, we’re here to talk about Earth’s Mightiest Guest Stars: The Avengers!

Here’s the story, simple version: Magneto’s students, The New Mutants, have been taken in by The White Queen Emma Frost, headmistress of the rival Massachusetts Academy through some skullduggery that I won’t go into here. Magneto realizes that he’s been duped by The White Queen and travels to Massachusetts with the alien shapeshifter Warlock to get his kids back. Emma Frost calls the cops, which is pretty smart, really.

The local sheriff calls The Avengers and explains that the world’s most powerful mutant terrorist is heading into his county to kidnap some kids from the Academy. The Avengers assemble to kick Magneto’s mutant ass. Everybody but Captain America believes the worst of Magneto, as we see here in this exchange between Cap and Hercules:

Good old Cap, he’s got a heart of gold. He knows that people can change – indeed, Avengers such as The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver used to roll with their dad Magneto in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants but now they’re good guys. The rest of the team isn’t so sure.

The team intercepts Magneto high over a snowy mountain range, where he is flying inside Warlock, who has shapeshifted into a facsimile of the X-Men’s blackbird jet. While Magneto lectures Warlock about the ethics of draining people’s life-force (it’s bad, don’t do it), The Avengers sneak up on him:

Hercules smacks the hell out of the Warlock/plane thing with his mace while bragging about how bad-ass he is. Typical Hercules.

Warlock unravels and falls to earth, and from that point the battle moves to the snowy woods. Magneto is at a disadvantage because a) he has to hold back and not destroy these annoying humans, and b) this particular team of Avengers is hella-powerful.

As you probably know, The Avengers features a constantly evolving roster of heroes. Over the years there have been some lame line-ups (remember Dr. Druid? Yeesh.), but this is a particularly potent team, consisting of The Wasp, Captain America, The Black Knight, Captain Marvel, Namor, and Hercules. Okay, to be honest The Wasp and The Black Knight aren’t exactly heavy-hitters, but the presence of the other four heroes more than makes up for it. Those two could have just stayed in bed and let the big guns handle it, but during this era The Wasp is the chairperson so she has to come along and fly around and look cute and stuff.

Anyway, Magneto plays defense, hampered by those pesky moral constraints and the need to help the injured Warlock:

“By my troth!” I love Hercules; he’s brilliant. Everybody knew a guy like Hercules in high school – strong as an ox, full of himself, anger management problems, likes to party, refers to himself in the third person. He’s just a big friendly/asshole jock, the kind of guy who slugs you in the shoulder just to say hello. Love him.

And Namor? He’s the rich, arrogant exchange student in your high school who got all the chicks. Total dick. Namor gets the drop on Magneto and punches him into an icy lake, then proceeds to pound on him underwater while he talks about how cool he is:

Not very sporting, is it? How exactly does Namor talk underwater, anyway? Never figured that out.

The Avengers have Magneto on the ropes and only Captain America has any doubts about how the whole thing is going down. The injured Warlock sees his mentor in trouble and zaps The Avengers, draining them of their life-force. Magneto has to save his attackers:

See, now that’s good stuff. Claremont keeps putting Magneto in situations where he has to choose the difficult path, the noble path – and he does, even if it’s not his first instinct. These issues made me really dig Magneto as a character, and I regretted his inevitable slide back into villainy. I thought the reformed Magneto was a more interesting character than the master villain Magneto, but what do I know?

Before The Avengers can take Magneto into custody, The New Mutants show up and rescue him, teleporting their headmaster out of harm’s way. The White Queen lets the kids go and they return to Xavier’s and everybody’s happy.

Claremont gets an “A” score for his portrayal of The Avengers in this issue. Sure, they are the antagonists of the story and we’re rooting for Magneto, but their unwillingness to give the guy the benefit of the doubt (except Cap) makes sense. They don’t act like assholes because the plot demands it; logic and circumstance make them the antagonists. Plus, Claremont captures their teamwork and professionalism well.

I only have a few gripes: Captain Marvel is underutilized, but then she’s so insanely powerful that she would be difficult to write. Jackson Guice’s pencils and visual storytelling are great, but Kyle Baker’s inking is a little too shaky and light for my tastes. Other than that, great issue.

Viva la Claremont!

Monday, November 28, 2005

SPIDER-MAN #2 Marvel Comics, 2004

You know what I hate? When you type up a long post full of hilarious jokes and keen insights and then – poof – it vanishes into the ether before you can publish it. So here we go, I’ll try this again, only this time without the jokes and insights.

In this second issue of the Marvel Knights Spider-Man series, Spidey’s Aunt May has been kidnapped. Again. To be fair, this is the first time Aunt May has been kidnapped in a Marvel Knights book, and Spider-Man acts like it’s never happened before. His search for his missing aunt leads him to Avengers Mansion, and the reason why this book is included in Earth’s Mightiest Guest Stars Week here at Dave’s Long Box.

Writer Mark Millar and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson have their own spin on The Avengers, starting with the cover (above). Captain America is wearing a web belt loaded with pouches for his Caparangs or something, and Hawkeye has adopted a high-tech look with an armored sleeve and a futuristic looking quiver. Really, how high-tech can you get with a quiver? Isn’t a quiver just a container for arrows? Hawkeye’s quiver looks like it was designed by NASA, and apparently it screws on to his back. I mean, it looks cool and all, but isn’t it a little over-designed? Seems like it would be heavy, too.
"...the plot is a beast that must be fed..."

The cover is just the first hint that this is a little bit of a different take on The Avengers. Spidey shows up at Avengers Mansion hoping to speak to Captain America. Hopefully Cap can help him contact Nick Fury (doesn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. have a toll-free number?), who Spidey hopes will help him track down his missing Aunt May.

Of course, things don’t go smoothly. Much like an episode of Three’s Company, the plot demands that Spider-Man’s efforts are foiled by misunderstanding, miscommunication, and irrational behavior. It all starts with Jarvis, Earth’s Mightiest Butler, who thinks that Spidey is another damn punk playing a prank when he shows up at their front door:

I call bullshit on that!
Jarvis isn’t a dick, and he’d be accustomed to superheroes stopping by the mansion. At the very least, you’d think The Avengers would have some protocol in the event that a hero showed up asking for help. But no, the plot is a beast that must be fed, so Jarvis acts like a dick and calls security on Spider-Man.

I know what you’re thinking: The Avengers have security guards? Just roll with it.

While Spidey punches out a bunch of S.H.I.EL.D. guards and vaults past the mansion’s auto-defense systems, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is downstairs getting ready for a photo shoot with famous photographer Annie Liebowitz:

Never mind how weird Stark looks; we’ll get to that in a minute.

There’s a telling line of dialogue in the panel above: “…like the ones you took of Dick and George when they were plotting the war in Iraq…” You could read a lot into that phrase, like how Millar mentions Dick Cheney before George Bush and his use of the word “plotting” instead of “planning.” I’m not going to go into that, but I do think that Stark’s use of Cheney and Bush’s first names implies a degree of familiarity, if not friendship. I should point out that at the time this book was published, Tony Stark was the U.S. Secretary of Defense. What I’m getting at is that I think Millar’s implying that Tony Stark is a Republican.

I don’t have a problem with that per se. Stark is practically the human embodiment of the military-industrial complex -- if any hero is going to be a Republican, it would be Tony Stark. And Moon Knight. That dude is a full-on Republican. No, I don’t have a problem with that, but what sticks in my craw a little is the mention of the war in Iraq.

Bear with me, I’m not going to get all political on your ass. I recognize that Marvel strives for a greater level of realism than DC, with their fake cities and all that. Hell, Iron Man’s origin is in the Vietnam War. But is there really a war in Iraq going on in the Marvel Universe? I only ask because if Tony Stark is your Secretary of Defense instead of Donald Rumsfield, it kind of changes the dynamic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn’t it?

If Tony Stark is running the Defense Department, we get some crazy sci-fi overlap into a very real conflict. Helicarriers, jet packs, repulsor rays, mandroids, powered armor… Just by plugging Iron Man into the equation you suddenly have this whole weird logic problem. How would Stark's leadership change the nature of the war? I mean, a car bomb or I.E.D. wouldn’t even dent the most basic Iron Man armor. You see what I mean? Maybe I’m overthinking the whole thing, but that one seemingly trite line of dialogue opens a big can of worms.

Okay, enough. Let’s move on. Doesn’t Tony Stark look kind of funny in the panel above? A lot of the characters in this issue are drawn like weird Doll People.

Spider-Man is kicking ass on the S.H.I.E.L.D. guys upstairs. Stark’s guards think that Spidey is a monster or a supervillain or something (no video cameras in the mansion?), so they’re starting to freak out. They just need to look at the bottom of the panel – see the cute lil’ Spidey head?

Did Tony Stark just diss Ant Man? The guard says, “Ant Man’s the only active Avenger between you, me, and whatever the hell that thing is…” and Stark’s reaction is, “We are so dead.” That’s funny, and mean.

Normally I am 100% on board with the Dodsons’ artwork, but in this comic there is a strange lack of noses. Check out the panel below. Spidey gets tackled by Quicksilver and finally comes face-to-face with The Avengers, who inexplicably have no noses, except for Quicksilver. How do they breathe? The Wasp looks pretty hot, nose or not. I like the arrow motif on her costume: “This way to fun!”

Millar portrays The Avengers as condescending narcissistic celebrity assholes, for the most part. Cap tells Spidey that Nick Fury is in a parallel dimension and can’t help him while the other Avengers make snide comments and say “God” a lot and stress about the damage done to the mansion. Spider-Man refuses Cap’s entirely reasonable offer of help because, again, the plot demands it. Stark shows up and acts like a dick again:

Dude, what is up with Hawkeye’s eyes in the panel above? He looks like a fifteen year old Japanese kid with a dye job, or like he had one too many face lift. Lay off the plastic surgery, Hawkeye. We all age; accept it.

Spider-Man swings off, leaving The Avengers to half-heartedly protest. “No, wait, Spider-Man… oh, well. Let’s clean up this mess.” I don’t know about you, but I think Captain America would suit up and try to help Spidey regardless. That’s just Cap.

Spidey swings off, moping about how he doesn’t fit in with the “super jocks.” Bitch, bitch, bitch.

You might think that based on my rather picky commentary that I did not enjoy Spider-Man #2 or that I’m offended by the off-note interpretation of The Avengers in the book. Not so! I actually kind of liked it – the dialogue is punchy and sly and the visual storytelling is fantastic, even if everybody does look like Doll People. I’m not so dogmatic that I can’t accept a different take on some of my favorite characters, even if I think it’s kind of goofy.

And that’s what Earth’s Mightiest Guest Stars Week is all about.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's Earth's Mightiest Guest Stars Week!

This week we're going to take a look at a bunch of Marvel comics that feature The Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as guest stars. I was thinking of just doing a straight-up Avengers Week, but that's not very imaginative, is it? So we'll take a look at comics where The Avengers make an appearance, but aren't the headline stars.
It's always interesting to see different interpretations of characters that you know and love (well, that I know and love anyway). Often geeks like myself have such an ingrained sense of who the characters are that any deviation from the standard portrayal of said characters seems like a horrible anal violation. "Captain America would never say that!" I have often screamed on crowded buses.
So this week we'll take a look at how other people portray The Avengers - folks like Claremont and Millar, who don't normally write them. And let me stop you: I know Mark Millar writes The Ultimates. They are not The Avengers. They are Mirror Universe Avengers. All they are missing are goatees and daggers.
But I digress. Let us begin Earth's Mightiest Guest Stars Week!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

IRON MAN #160 Marvel Comics, 1982

What must be going through Iron Man’s mind on the cover of Iron Man #160, where he is being molested by Anaconda?

Probably not: “Unngh! Powerful snake-like tentacles - strangling me! C-can’t breathe…”

I would think it would be more like: “God, this is embarrassing. I hope nobody has a camera.”

If you’re a heavy hitter like Iron Man and you’re having trouble with a pack of losers like The Serpent Squad, you are seriously off your game.
Writer Denny O’Neil’s run on Iron Man was full of hilariously mismatched hero-villain fights – Iron Man was always going up against somebody who had no chance against him. I heard that O’Neil was more interested in chronicling Tony Stark’s descent into alcoholic hell than in who Iron Man was fighting each month, and I can believe it. O’Neil had Iron Man – who is like, a nuclear powered killing machine – go head-to-head against jokers like Vibro, The Brothers Grimm, The Fucking Termite*, and The Serpent Squad, among others. These match-ups did not make for gripping comic book battles.

In this issue Iron Man fights Anaconda, Death Adder, and Black Mamba – The Serpent Squad! Fortunately for the villains, Iron Man also has to fight Denny O’Neil, who crafts the plot in such a way that our hero actually has a hard time against the loser villains. If I were writing the book – that’s right, if I jumped in the Wayback Machine, traveled back to the year 1982, kidnapped and replaced Denny O’Neil, and then wrote Iron Man – I would have Stark wipe The Serpent Squad out in two panels, and then we’d move on to something more challenging, like Iron Man vs Runaway Stagecoach.

Here’s how my script for Iron Man #160 would look:

Panel 1. Iron Man turns around to face The Serpent Squad, who cower.

IRON MAN: “Hey! The Serpent Squad!”

DEATH ADDER: “Wait! We surren-- ”

Panel 2. Iron Man blasts The Serpent Squad with his repulsors and his omni-beam. The villains are blown into the air like steaks in a tornado.


ANACONDA: “My balls!”


IRON MAN: “That was funny. Time for lunch.”

Panel 3. In the Stark Industries cafeteria, Iron Man eats a very thin ham sandwich through his mouth slot.

IRON MAN: “Mmm... Ham.”

TOWNSFOLK (off-panel): “AIIIEEEE! Runaway Stagecoach!”

IRON MAN: “Eh? Trouble?”

…and then Iron Man spends the rest of the issue saving townsfolk from an out of control horse-drawn coach.

One of the highlights of this issue for me is the Steve Ditko art, which is adorably simple and old-fashioned. That may sound patronizing, but that’s my charitable spin on the art in this issue. Years ago I made a vow by candlelight never to make fun of Steve Ditko, and I’m not about to start now.

The first page of Iron Man #160 is a dream sequence where Tony has been bested by the one adversary he can never truly defeat: Scotch. I’m not sure if some other artist drew the first page, or if Ditko was adopting a different style just for this scene or what the deal is. Here’s Tony Stark’s worst nightmare:

Sorry about the crappy scan; I had to do it at work. (Just kidding! I never work on my blog at work! Not me!)

I love this splash page because as I have mentioned before, drunk superheroes are always funny. It’s a comedy home-run – guaranteed laffs. Stark is so fucked up that he has forgotten the incredible arsenal of space age weaponry at his disposal and has opted for a broken bottle as his weapon of choice. It’s hard to see because the scan sucks, but there it is in his right hand – a broken bottle. And look at the guy on the floor clutching his face! Oh my God, Iron Man cut that dude’s face with a broken bottle! That will teach the guy to mouth off about the Red Sox in front of Iron Man.

After Stark’s horrific dream he hops in the shower and gets ready for a big party at the zoo tonight. We get this HOT panel:

Such is the power of Steve Ditko’s art: I am now gay for creepy eyeless Tony Stark.

The rest of the comic? Man, do I really have to? The Serpent Squad show up, they give Iron Man a hard time, he wins, et cetera. After their defeat, The Serpent Squad decide to expand their ranks by recruiting villains like Bushmaster and they become The Serpent Society. Where I grew up in L.A. we had a pimp that hung out at the neighborhood Bob’s Big Boy restaurant that everybody called Bushmaster – I wonder if it’s the same guy?

I forgot to mention! At the party there is lots of crazy-ass dancing, like this old guy who is getting hella krump:

This was published in the 80’s - perhaps that’s The Safety Dance that he’s doing. Or maybe he’s Wang Chunging…

* I know, I can’t believe Marvel named a character The Fucking Termite. Would Stan Lee put up with that? Think about the kids, Marvel!

Super Hero Fun Happy Riddle

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Shameless pimping: Templar!

I’m going to take this opportunity to pimp one of my projects, because it’s my blog, damn it, and I’ll pimp if I want to.

Templar is a comic book mini-series I have been shopping around with my buddy and co-creator Ken Christiansen. It’s a grim swashbuckler about the descendants of the medieval Knights Templar, who battle the undead with automatic weapons and swords and stuff.

Templar has got everything you would want in a comic, aside from breasts: werewolves, helicopters, kung fu, possessed clergy, disembowelments, explosions, underwater zombies, swords, vampires, submarines, ancient prophecy, silver bullets, and blimps. Lots of blimps. It’s all very butch.

We’ve sent Templar out to a few publishers; we’ll see how it goes. Here are a few sample pages where our noble hero confronts the possessed Cardinal Rumic in the Vatican secret archives:

Artist and co-creator Ken Christiansen and I have been working on Templar in one form or another for longer than I would care to admit -- it has turned into a holy mission/labor of love for us. He has drawn damn near the whole series, and each issue's art tops the last in terms of bad-assedness.

A little about Ken: he is pure of heart, has an unerring internal compass, drives a Mach I, and has one fist of iron and the other of steel. Ever since that stormy night when he dragged me out of that burning dog, I owe Ken my life. Ken has worked for Nintendo and Disney, and currently toils as a freelance artist in L.A., Home of the Body Bag. OK, he’s actually in Glendale, Home of the Galleria. I encourage everyone to check out Bad Flip Productions for samples of Ken’s art, including a couple of dope Rocketeer comic pages that I love. Templar is his best work, of course.

Here’s more Templar fu – a werewolf attack on a French farming town:

“Where are you going?”

“To kill some werewolves.”

I don’t know, I think that’s pretty macho. I’m all about The Macho.

Finally, here’s a page featuring a squad of Templar knights hijacking a blimp. You cannot go wrong by putting a blimp in your story – any story, really. It’s what made Blade Runner so cool – the big billboard blimp thing. I submit to you that nearly any work of fiction or film could be improved with the addition of one or more blimps. Think how bad-ass Sense & Sensibility would have been with blimps. Armored Nazi blimps.

Anyway, with good fortune, Templar will be coming soon to a comic book store near you and we will make loads of money and become assholes. Wish us luck!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Huge Big Big Superhero Fun Happy Express Activity Fun Fun Book

What a score! I found this at my local library’s book sale for only a quarter.

As the name implies, The Huge Big Big Superhero Fun Happy Express Activity Fun Fun Book is a huge superhero coloring book with games and puzzles. It is seriously the size of a phone book. You could kill a man with this thing. The copy I got is in great shape, completely untouched and uncolored – and all for a quarter.

This is another relic from my childhood – Young Dave had The Huge Big Big Superhero Fun Happy Express Activity Fun Fun Book and spent countless hours coloring in the adventures of Batman and Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I had actually forgotten about this until I saw it on the shelf at the library sale, and then it all came back to me in a rush of memory more powerful than an acid flashback. Not that I would know what an acid flashback is like…

The majority of The Huge Big Big Superhero Fun Happy Express Activity Fun Fun Book is taken up by a bunch of really stupid superhero stories that you could color and try in vain to make sense of, and then at the end of the book there is a bunch of puzzles and riddles and “super” facts. Here’s a sample of the kind of riddles they had:

The super hero stories themselves hearken back to a more innocent age. Before The Joker had graduated to shooting people in the spine, this was the height of his insane evil (click to enlarge):

“Ha ha! I’ve made someone cry!” What a dick!

I don’t know how crazy that is, but it’s just damn mean. Stealing a kid’s report card? That’s cold. Although the kid should be glad that he just lost his report card and not the ability to walk – if that kid crossed paths with the modern Joker he’d be lying gutshot on the sidewalk, tasting his own blood. And then Dr. Light would come in and – well, it wouldn’t be pretty. Count your blessings, kid.

In the second Batman and Robin story, the Dynamic Duo take on The Penguin and his henchmen, the hideous Crow and the sultry lounge singer moll known as The Canary. I’m not sure what the plot is exactly, but it involves a giant octopus and a hurricane and… and… and man, it’s stupid.

During one of the many inconclusive fight scenes, The Penguin shoots Batman in the chest. “Batman -- you’re hurt!” Robin exclaims. Thanks for the update, genius, I think Batman figured that out.

The Penguin and crew escape into a brewing hurricane because Robin is understandably concerned about his mentor’s sucking chest wound. So what does Robin do? He picks up Batman, throws him over his shoulders, and staggers out into the raging storm to find a doctor. Did they not have a car? What a dumbshit.

It dawns on Robin that he’s not going to find a doctor in the middle of the storm, so he – and this blows my mind – he decides to ride out the storm by lashing Batman and himself to a palm tree:

Robin, ever heard of storm surge? And what was wrong with the building you were just in? Do you think spending the night outside in a hurricane is going to a) help or b) hurt Batman, with his sucking chest wound? Boy Wonder my ass.

Fortunately, The Canary lounge singer gal finds Batman and Robin in the morning and drives them to a hospital. She had a change of heart, you see, and gave up her life of crime after Batman saved her from a giant octopus. No, really.

The doctors are too busy with the other hurricane victims to help Batman, but they inexplicably will allow The Canary to use their facilities to operate on Batman. You see, she’s actually a doctor:

She’s a doctor, but she decided to become a café singer because “it paid good money.” Okay. And she carries her medical school diploma in the glove box of the car, which she shows to Robin as Batman slowly dies in the back seat. Okay, sure.

With Robin’s help, The Canary operates on Batman and all is well. Robin then beats the crap out of The Penguin and associates. In the end, the former gangster’s moll decides to give up her life of crime and her ultra-lucrative café singing career to become a doctor again. All is well:

Batman is out of his mind on pain-killers in that panel – he doesn’t even know where he is. And why is everybody facing the “camera?” Who are they talking to?

Bah! The Huge Big Big Superhero Fun Happy Express Activity Fun Fun Book makes no damn sense. I know, perhaps I’m being too hard on the book and am applying unreasonable standards of logic and coherence on what is essentially a coloring book. But damn it, shouldn’t coloring books make sense, too?

At least there’s a bunch of fun puzzles and riddles in the back…

Friday, November 18, 2005

Space Ranger: Like getting punched in the face. Hard.

Nostalgia is deception wrapped in sentiment. Nostalgia is a ghostly lover dressed in a lovely, old-fashioned gown, who beckons you to dance with her, to make love to her… and then she turns into a hideous mummified ghoul who rips your throat out with her teeth and blood gushes and the screaming, my God, the screaming… That is nostalgia.

Nostalgia asks us to model the present on the golden past. It beckons us to look to yesterday, but to look through a veil of delusion that clouds our vision and robs us of our critical faculties. Nostalgia doesn’t want us to remember this simple fact:


Suck has always been with us, and always will be with us. Just because something was made in the forties or the sixties doesn’t automatically make it not suck. For as long as man has been on this earth, he has produced stuff that sucks ass, and sucks it hard.

Take for example, the primitive cave art in France. Back in the day there were skilled artists among our primitive ancestors, guys that could really draw a buffalo on a cave wall, or whatever. Even back then, I’ll bet you there were other cavemen who weren’t as good as the virtuoso cave painters – they produced pale copies of the good buffalo paintings, or just phoned it in and painted substandard buffalos. In short, they sucked. Their buffalos sucked. *

"For as long as man has been on this earth, he has produced stuff that sucks ass, and sucks it hard."

This suckiness is as much a part of the human experience as the noble passions that inspire people like Gandhi and Bono. It’s almost a shame that we don’t recognize and celebrate this common potential for suckiness in the same way that we celebrate our highest achievements and greatest traits. But then, if we celebrated suckiness it would stop sucking, wouldn’t it? Or perhaps the end result would just be Irony.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. Maybe this post sucks.

Oh! Right. Space Ranger. Jeez, this whole thing was just one long preamble to me making fun of Space Ranger. But now I’m burned out; I don’t even have the energy to properly mock him. I guess I’ll just throw a picture of him up and you can imagine what kind of lame jokes I would make about him:

Pretty dopey, huh? With the yellow jumpsuit and shit? Space Ranger is a DC character who is just waiting for Grant Morrison to notice him and turn him into a psychedelic space cowboy. I submit to you, gentle reader, that Space Ranger is not cool merely because he is old. I submit to you that Space Ranger is not cool at all, and I would like to think that if I was a young lad reading comics when Space Ranger was at his prime, I would still think he was not cool.

So there: Space Ranger. Don’t let Nostalgia fill your head with crazy thoughts that make you think Space Ranger is cool, or that you “get” Space Ranger in a detached ironic way. Space Ranger is proof that suck is eternal, that suck is undying, that suck is human.

In short, Space Ranger is like getting punched in the face.

* Just once I'd like to see a documentary with some anthropologist showing us these fabulous primitive cave paintings, where the guy says, "Oh, you know this one? The painting of the antelope hunt? This one kind of sucks. I mean, what is that supposed to be, a hunter? He looks retarded. And that's an antelope? I mean, I know we're talking about stone age man here, but my daughter could draw a better antelope than that, and she's three. It's crap, really."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why Saliva Strand Syndrome affects only men

Because seriously, nobody wants to see this:

Okay, maybe some people want to see that, but not Dave. I like to think of Wonder Woman as someone with flawless oral hygiene and normally functioning salivary glands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Saliva Strand Syndrome - a silent killer

Saliva Strand Syndrome is a serious disorder that affected many comic book characters during the Nineties. Characterized by excessive amounts of thick saliva, Saliva Strand Syndrome is resistant to all forms of medical treatment. The only known cure is Editorial Mandate, i.e., the editor of a comic book asks the artist to stop drawing characters with thick strands of glue-like saliva because holy shit, they look like freaks and enough already!

One of the strange things about Saliva Strand Syndrome is that, despite the massive quantities of paste-like saliva in a character’s mouth, he (the afflicted is nearly always a male) has no trouble speaking and never drools. You would think there would be some spill-over, but miraculously, the saliva stays in the mouth.

I’m no doctor, and it strikes me that perhaps we should get a professional like Polite Dissent’s Dr. Scott to weigh in on this issue. The amount of literature on Saliva Strand Syndrome is embarrassingly scant for such a prevalent disorder. You would think Image Comics would have funded a study in the Nineties to find out why many of their characters were afflicted by the disease. What I do know is that the symptoms of Saliva Strand Syndrome seem to be triggered by stress.

Combat can be stressful, or so I’m told. It’s one of the main triggers for SSS symptoms, along with maniacal raving. For examples, below is an image of Prime, charging into battle on the cover of an Ultraforce!!! comic book – art courtesy of Mike Deodato (I legally must put three exclamation points after Ultraforce!!!). Prime has his mouth open wide, probably saying, “RAAA!!!” or “UltraFOOOORCE!!!” You can clearly see a few thick strands of saliva connecting the roof of his mouth with his tongue like gooey stalactites. Behold:

Below is a character whose name escapes me, from one of Rob Liefield’s Youngblood books. He’s one of the many generic Longshot/Cable guys that bred like Tribbles during the Nineties. They all had generic action verb names like “Brawl” and “Skip.” Don’t laugh, Skip was a total bad-ass – he’d come skipping up at high-speed and brain you with a magic golf club.* Skip suffered from SSS like many of his colleagues on Team Youngblood, including this fellow below. Judging by his appearance, I think his name might be Render.

You know what else is stressful? Having your life stolen, or misplacing your life. Just ask Booster Gold, who has lost his life on the cover of this Extreme Justice comic. Booster has a heroic variant of SSS that is easier on the eyes than the thick, gooey Cthulhu threads of saliva many villains have. His saliva is clean, elegant – it almost looks like speed lines, like he’s opening his mouth really really fast:

When Saliva Strand Syndrome strikes villains, the results can be particularly unappetizing. When you have a big-ass mouth like Modam, it’s even worse. I don’t know if saliva should be measured in weight or mass, but there’s one thing for sure, Modam has SSS – bad.

Here’s a Youngblood villain who has such an extreme case of SSS that his saliva has formed an intricate, web-like pattern in his mouth- as he’s being decapitated.

Don’t ask.

Perhaps the greatest single example of Saliva Strand Symptom is Elektra #2, with art by Mike Deodato. In this rematch between Elektra and Bullseye, the man who “killed” her, Bullseye has freakishly thick saliva. He looks like Venom, or a Queen Alien or something. Check it out:

Man, what did he eat? Paper mache?

The thing that annoys me about unbridled use of saliva strands by artists is that the overuse of the imagery ultimately undermines the meaning of the image. Does that make sense? If every character has saliva strands, what do saliva strands mean?

I would say that saliva strands, when used properly, would symbolize madness, evil, frenzy – that kind of thing. But when saliva strands are just a visual tic, they become pointless and unintentionally hilarious.

For instance, I can appreciate the use of the saliva strands in the panel above – it’s a shot of Bullseye being nutty. Fair enough. But below we have a shot of Bullseye getting kicked, and the saliva strands are still there:

How am I supposed to interpret the saliva strand symbolism here? “Bullseye is fucking insane – even when he’s getting kicked in the nads! Beware!”

Here’s a shot of Bullseye getting kicked upside the head by Elektra. Again, more saliva strands. Is he supposed to be scary or menacing or something in this scene? Or is the visual message: “Bullseye is batshit crazy – even when he’s getting kicked in the face! Look out!”

Some time ago -- and I wish I could remember where I read this – I read a little essay somebody wrote about how it pissed him off that now artists were always coloring Superman’s eyes red when he got pissed. The argument was that it was okay to draw Superman with glowing red eyes if he was using his heat vision or if he was enraged, but too many artists were drawing panels of Superman with red eyes just to make him look bad-ass. The overuse of the visual cheapened the impact of the whole red eyes thing, until Superman’s glowing red eyes have no meaning at all. Superman’s eyes would glow red if his cell phone batteries died, or if his eggs were undercooked, or if he saw a hot chick – his eyes were glowing so much he looked like frickin’ Jodi, the pig from The Amityville Horror. Enough, enough with the red eyes!

I feel the same way about saliva: Save it for when it counts. Only then can we truly stamp out Saliva Strand Syndrome.

Too busy!

So busy

can't blog
can only type
in short gasps

Pictures 4U!

A tornado intercept vehicle

The Samurai Sportsman applies the principles of bushido to fly fishing.

Phil Spector will swallow your soul!

Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley busts a move and shows us some of that Celtic Tiger kung fu.

Finally, we have golfers running from a bear. Not sure why that's funny to me, but it is.