Category Archives: comics

Quote

Julie Taymor Probably Hates Pink Even More Now

Panel from The Amazing Spider-Man #21, by Stan Lee 7 Steve Ditko.“Julie hated pink. It also seemed as if she could discern gradations of red on the electromagnetic spectrum that no one else could. Humans are ‘trichromats,’ meaning we have three different types of cone cells in our eyes. However, it has been surmised that because of the XX chromosome, some women may possess a fourth variant cone cell, situated between the standard red and green cones. This would make them — like birds — ‘tetrachromats.’ These hypothetical tetrachromats would have the ability to distinguish between two colors a trichchromat would call identical. Continue reading

Nostalgia Trip: G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO! #49

It's the Rosetta Stone of my wordview, really. 1986.

It’s the Rosetta Stone of my wordview, really. 1986.

This is the first comic book I ever bought, from one of those HEY KIDS! COMICS! spinner racks in a 7-Eleven somewhere on the south side of Chicago. I think I had stepped out from some kind of an event for a distant relative. I was very young.

Anyway, I found it again in a Midtown Manhattan comics shop this weekend. When I pointed it out to my girlfriend, she said she wanted to buy it for me. A sweet gesture, especially considering the price tag of $6 — 800 percent what I paid for my long-lost copy in what the indicia at the bottom of page one tells me was 1986. Some of the best comics ever published came out that year: Watchmen, MAUS, The Dark Knight Returns, Love & Rockets, etc., etc. I wouldn’t find out about those until later. They didn’t sell those comics in 7-Elevens. Continue reading

Art Spiegelman: Deleted Scenes

spiegelman-illus-web-layers

What a thrill it was for me to talk last week with comics master Art Spiegelman, who’ll give his Comix 101 lecture tonight at the Corcoran. If you’re still curious after reading my preview (it’s a PDF) in today’s Examiner (aimed, like Spiegelman’s talk, at comic book civilians, after all), here’s a little more Spiegelmania, in the from of excerpts from our conversation last Thursday.
Continue reading

So, was Watchmen awesome?

watchmen

Word. As an experience, meeting some friends at the Uptown last night to see Watchmen at midnight-plus-one (though it was more like midnight-thirty-five by the time all those sweetass trailers for Public Enemies and Star Trek and Wolverine and Terminator: Salvation, plus some trailers for other, seemingly less sweetass movies, were done) was, as you say, awesome.

But the movie? Also largely awesome. I think. Certainly I’m looking forward to seeing it again and reveling in all the minute, Blade Runner-level visual detail in which Zack Snyder and his people have rendered this world. And I’ll watch the aleady announced DVD cut of the picture, which reportedly expands the theatrical release’s two-forty run time by another half-hour or so. I do have the feeling this thing might play awfully slowly when I see it again, even though the film’s biggest problem is that its final third just hurtles along too damn fast. Maybe Watchmen would have been better brought to the screen as an HBO miniseries.

Alexandria DuPont diagnosed the movie’s pacing issues with her typical rapier wit and lacerating insight. (She also says that Matthew Goode — who plays Ozymandias as Ziggy Starust-era David Bowie — “dropped a charima bomb” in another movie. Wow.) The other reviews I’ve found insightful today are Roger Ebert‘s and Andrew O’Heir‘s (both strongly favorable), and Philip Kennicott’s (thumbs-down).

io9, Gawker’s sci-fi and comics blog, has a ton of revelatory Watchmen-related posts. In this one, screenwriter David Hayter reveals some of the inane studio-suggested changes he managed, heroically, to prevent.

This one discusses one change Hayter was inclined to make, without even being asked: Going with a much more restrained, less bloody climax than the comic’s. I don’t mean that the specifics, though not the tone, of the ending have been changed — we all know that by now. I mean that the film spares us the book’s long, lingering shots of the apocalypse that befalls New York City. Wanna guess why? 9/11 sapped the will of anybody, even those fully invested in being faithful to Moore and Gibbons’ vision, to put that onscreen. This is one of Ms. DuPont’s big problems with the movie — that “the part where we see and feel the consequences of Veidt’s actions” has been neutered — and you can see her point. But Hayter’s wins, at least for me. If you really want to see these Dave Gibbons drawings rendered in the same kind of photographic fidelity with which Snyder has reproduced so many other panels from the comic, well, you’ve got a stronger stomach than I do.

io9 also gives us a roundup of what elements from the comic have been eighty-sixed entirely. The dumbest one? Laurie’s smoking, one of the behaviors that humanized her in the book. She never lights up in the movie because — says Snyder — Warner Bros. muckety-muck Alan Horn dislikes smoking. Hey, so do I, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna sit still if somebody tries digitally to pull the butt out of Bogey’s mouth in The Maltese Falcon. After all the battles Hayter and Snyder won — the length, the complexity, the R-rating — smoking is the thing he can’t get through? Alan Horn deserves lung cancer. What an asshole.

Watch-day!

watchmen-6

I’m going to see Watchmen at midnight , and I can’t wait. Actually, that statement is demonstrably false, because I’ve been waiting for this movie ever since I read (retired?) DC Comics Publisher Jeanette Kahn’s “Direct Currents” column about a potential film adaptation of Watchmen back in the late 80s.

I was excited when I read in the long-defunct Fantagraphics-published fanzine Amazing Heroes that Sam Haam had written a screenplay that actually improved upon the one (arguable) flaw of Moore and Gibbons’ 12-issue maxi-series: it’s 1950′s The Day the Earth Stood Still-style denouement. (I hear that an alteration to the ending has survived all the subsequent drafts and years of development hell, though only the Writers’ Guild knows whether the finished film’s ending was Haam’s.)

I was excited when Terry Gilliam was going to direct it, even though his own revision of the screenplay purportedly sucked worse than the film version of Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If anybody could get this thing onscreen intact, I figured, the guy who made Brazil could do it.

I was excited again, ten-plus years later, when Paul Greengrass was going to do it. (Though Cloverfield is probably a fair indication of what a Greengrass-shot Watchmen would have looked like.)

I was skeptical when I heard Zack Snyder, he of the-shot-by-shot adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, had won the gig. I haven’t seen 300, but I gather it was mostly about a bunch of CGI-hardbodies wrestling in Matrix-like slow-motion. But when I read about the faithfulness and commitment with which Snyder was translating Moore and Gibbons’ sprawling masterpiece for the movies — keeping it set in alternate 1985, casting non-stars, allowing for a near-three-hour theatrical-cut run time (three-plus for DVD) and, crucially, an R-rating — I began to get excited again.

In about seven hours, I’ll be watching the movie. Sometime after that, though possibly not right away, I’ll know whether Snyder and screenwriter David Hayter succeeded. I’ve tried to avoid reading the mainstream critics’ notices, though I did weaken and read David Edelstein’s review in New York, which articulated nicely my reservations about Snyder.

I believe this much, though: Snyder tried — really tried — to make something great. Or at least to be faithful to something great.

Orson Welles, who made three brilliant films and many more failures, said it takes as much hard work to make a bad movie as it does to make a good one. But William Goldman, who’s had more commercial success than Welles but never improved upon The Princess Bride, said that most movies aren’t even meant to be any good.

Watchmen, I have faith, was meant to be good. And now, we’ll see.

A Failure Pile in a Sadness Bowl: My Interview with Patton Oswalt

patton-oswalt-blog

Hey, I interviewed Patton Oswalt, the greatest comic champion of our end-times!

Not my finest hour as an interloctuor, but a valuable lesson for me. I was glad to talk to him for DCist. Can’t wait to see him play Lisner this weekend.

THE VERY NEXT DAY: It seems I’m not the only person ever to have a less-than-satsifactory Oswalterview Experience. A consoling friend referred me today to audio of Patton’s appearance on the Seattle radio show Too Beautiful to Live last fall, as well as of host Luke Burbank’s after-action report the next day about why the segment was (in his perhaps too-harsh view) a bust.

Burbank is the radio reporter and essayist who contributed the great piece about the guy who mourned his wife by wearing a Superman costume in public to the “How to Win Friends and Influence People” episode of This American Life back in 2001. I had no idea he hosted his own show, but I’ll be listening now.

That a cat as smart as Burbank wasn’t able to get much out of Oswalt makes me feel better about my own performance, which I’ve been kind of bummed out about this week. But if you check out the audio from his Sept. 6 show, you’ll hear Burbank second-guessing his own interviewing chops over the air the same way I’ve been fretting about mine for half a week now.

Web(ber) of Spider-Man

spider-man-no-more

I’ve got a preview in the Weekender of the apparently quite popular Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Turns out the show’s Phantom (among other roles), Ron Bohmer, is an unreformed comic book geek, just like me.

I keep forgetting that Bono and Edge wrote the music for the budget-busting Julie Taymor Spider-Man, or rather, Spiderman, a distinction of great significance. Because I don’t want to believe it. I mean, I like U2, Taymor, and Spidey separately, but all together? Sounds like bacon and ice cream.

Stuever on the Clown Prince of Crime

How the hell did I miss this? Stuever’s one of my favorite scribes at the Paper of Record, and The Joker is, of course, the scariest killer in fiction. Decent essay — Stuever’s are never less — but he misses that people said the same thing about Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman that he’s saying about Chris Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight: That the villain is more interesting than the hero. Well, yeah, Hank: The villain is always more interesting than the hero.

I can’t recall if it was an issue of Detective Comics where I first saw the ad pictured above on the back. (Could they advertise “Suggested for Mature Readers” books on Comics Code-approved books?) It would have been late 1987 or early 1988. I do remember being terrified by Brian Bolland’s depiction of The Joker — those swollen, murderous eyeballs! — and reading longtime editor of the Bat-books editor (an occasional writer) Denny O’Neil’s “From the Den” warning that The Killing Joke was most certainly not appropriate for children. His column ended with the sentence, “You are alerted.”

A smart salesman, that O’Neil.

Naturally, I had to have it.

I’d read The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by that point, both “adult” Batman stories that had found a massive audience outside of the comics mainstream — one that O’Neill hoped, no doubt, would spend $3.50 on The Killing Joke, too. (The new hardcover reissue will set you back $17.99.)

When it finally hit the comic book shop to which I faithfully pedaled a sweaty mile, several times a week, Roger (the rat-tailed manager who was exactly like Comic Book guy on The Simpsons, only disgustingly skinny instead of corpulent) slapped a “PG-18″ sticker on it, which made it like an R-rated movie, only you couldn’t buy a ticket for something else and then sneak in. Your parents, could however, sign an index card granting you permission to buy PG-18 comics (mostly the DC fantasy/horror books like Swamp Thing and, a year or so later, Sandman; the kind of stuff that in the 90s would comprise DC’s Vertigo line. I’m pretty sure this store didn’t carry anything that might approach any legal standard of obscene, though probably a lot of parents would have called Love & Rockets that.) Incredibly, my dad accompanied me to the store at my urging so I could buy The Killing Joke. (Later — somewhat incredibly, he even signed one of those index cards.) It was the first comic I ever saw where the bad guy actually seemed evil, and his acts horrifying and irreversible.

I’m going to have another look at The Killing Joke tonight, before I see The Dark Knight on Thursday. Can. Not. Wait.

Another Reason to Love Guillermo del Toro

I didn’t love Hellboy, the movie, as much as I feel like I should have, or as much as I love Mike Mignola’s source material. But the advance word on Hellboy II: The Golden Army, has me fairly drooling. Not as much as The Dark Knight, due for release the following week (!), but still. Del Toro and Chris Nolan can count on my $10 and then some. Actually, Nolan will get more:  I’m going to have to check out The Dark Knight in IMAX, since Nolan apparently shot four scenes in IMAX.

These kinds of films were defining events of my adolescent summers. They offer diminishing returns in adulthood, but I still get excited about ‘em. Obviously.

With Great Power . . .

Detail from Steve Ditko\'s original artwork for Amazing Fantasy No. 15, August 1962

Went down to the Library of Congress today to look at Steve Ditko’s original artwork from Amazing Fantasy No. 15 — which y’all know was the first appearance of Spider-Man, right?

Awesome. The original artwork — donated anonymously to the LoC about a month ago. For Spider-Man and the three other stories, also penned by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, that comprised the issue. It would take seven months after the publication of this, final issue of Amazing Fantasty (nee Amazing Adult Fantasy) for Spidey to get his own title. Forty-six years later, he’s still going strong.

I’ll have a story about it in the paper next weekend.

Screwtape, Sara, and Superman (The Devil, the Diva, and the Demigod)

Reviewed The Screwtape Letters at the Landburgh and Sara Bareilles at the 9:30, and rounded up tomorrow’s Free Comic Book Day revels for DCist.

Tonight: Crowded House’s first DC show in something like 14 years!

It’s a Mann’s Mann’s Mann’s Mann’s World

aimee_mann__smilers_071223_h_2579.jpg
. . . but she still has to talk to me. Well, actually, no, she doesn’t. At all. But I asked her publicist very nicely, and she did.

She seems like a nice lady. Sings a little, too.

Santa’s Big Olde Bag, opened

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

Prologue: This is Christmas music! The first voice you hear is that of De’voreaux White as Argyle, the poontang-loving young limo driver who spent a memorable late-80s Christmas Eve locked in the parking garage beneath “Nakatomi Plaza” (actually the 20th Century Fox building) in Los Angeles. They made a movie about it, and that film is universally hailed as the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It’s called Under Siege. No, wait, it was Passenger 57. Um, Sudden Death? No, no, only kidding, merry-makers. It’s Die Hard, the once and future king of action pics.Once can only hope that IMDB is not an accurate reflection of De’voreaux’s recent career: His last screen credit is from eight years ago, in Shadow Hours. In the role of “Second Tranvestite.” Hey, remember when Ray Charles shot at a very young De’voreaux when he tried to pinch a guitar from Ray’s music shop in The Blues Brothers? That was awesome.

Santa’s Got a Big Old Bag. (The Bellrays, 2005) – Yep, Lisa Kekaula, that mic is on.

Ding! Dong! Death! (May Be Your Santa Claus!) (Sufjan Stevens, 2003; preacher recording found by Andy Cirzan, origin unknown) – A mash-up, albeit a very primitive one, of my own design. I started out with like, half-a-dozen pieces culled from Sufjan’s remarkable set of five Christmas EPs recorded each December from 2001 through 2005, and in June 2006. The latter is the one that includes “Christmas in July,” as well as “Jupiter Winter,” “Sister Winter,” and “The Winter Solstice,” most of each stand out as notably depressing even among this, whose five volumes comprise one of the most muted Christmas albums ever. Thanks for bringing us all down, Sufjan.

Save the Overtime (For Me). (Dees, Gallo, Knight, Knight, Schwarzenegger, 1983) – Surely the best of the Governator’s collaborations with Gladys Knight and the Pips. Squats are an excellent exercise.

I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You. (Margo Guryan, date unknown) – She’s a creepy broad, ain’t she? But tuneful.

Brian Wilson Reveals All. Behold the startingly revelatory, probingly incisive, revealingly probing, piercingly insightful secrets of Wilson’s creative process explicated here. Josh du Lac got some good stuff out of Wilson a few weeks back, like the fact that Phil Spector is “Zany!”

Melekalikimaka. (Al Jardine, Mike Love, 1974) – “’Melekalikimaka’ is ‘Merry Christmas’ in Hawaii talk-a.’” This kind of thing, really, is what this compilation is all about. A powerful argument that Jardine and Love were the real brain trust behind the Beach Boys.

Pearl Harbor Didn’t Work Out, So . . . (Steven E. DeSouza & Jeb Stuart, 1987) – I had a film studies textbook in college that claimed Die Hard was subtly, or perhaps unsubtly, racist, sexist, xenophobic and every other damn thing, just because it’s about a heroic white Reagan-voter who takes down a crew of slumming Royal Shakespeare Company types, including ballerina Alexander Gudanov and some American guy who looks eerily like Huey Lewis. The film supposedly espouses contempt for invading Japanese conglomerates, professional women who eschew their spouses’ last names (lots of stuff about that Rolex on Holly McClane/Gennaro’s wrist that Hans Gruber is hanging on at the end of the movie) and relegates not one but two black actors to sidekick roles. What an awesome movie.

Daddy Won’t Be Home Again for Christmas. (Merle Haggard, 1973) – This just in: Hag’s a shitty father. No clue here what’s keeping him away. Not prison, since he can write that “little check” that he’s hoping, puzzlingly, “will fit.” Is “forget” a really hard word to rhyme?

Sleazy Con Men in Red Suits. (Randy Kornfield) – Jingle All the Way is remembered as an epic, cautionary failure, but which I submit to you is not even among the five worst films released in 1996. Freed from its distracting visuals, the film’s audio, tastefully excerpted here, reveals a surprising profundity and even grace. Well played, Randy Kornfield, well played.

Christmas Present Blues. (Jimmy Webb, ?) – My prose is not worthy.

Snokenstein. (?) – The first of many, many treasures here that I appropriated from Andy Cirzan’s bizarro Christmas compilations as featured each year on Sound Opinions. Andy is on the show again this weekend, and I fully expect him to bring plenty of obscure wonders and oddities that you can bet will show up on my compilation next year.

A Great Big Sled. (Brandon Flowers, 2006) – Nobody will ever accuse Flowers of being a great lyricist, but I would have been delighted to have penned the line “little boys have action toys for brains” myself. I’m living proof it can last a long time. Way better than anything on Sam’s Town, the lyrically-impaired Killers album released a couple months prior to this.

The Ultimate Stretch. (Journey feat. Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger) – I just love hearing The Terminator talk over that opening vamp of “Don’t Stop Believing.” I guess we’ll never know whether Tony Soprano finished all 30 of the pushups.

Reindeer Roll Call. (Kornfield) – Listen to how Arnold is just mercilessly taunting Sinbad as he outruns him. “I’m having a good time now,’bye!” If you’ve seen Pumping Iron, then you know that workaholic salesman Howard Langston is probably the role truest to Arnold’s real-life personality, especially once his competitive juices get flowing. Jingle All the Way really does require repeat viewings to fully absorb its many insights into the Gubernatorial mind.

. . . and many, many more!

Postcards: Dark Lords of the Pith

Arlington-based comix editor Jason Rodriguez’s new graphic anthology, Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened, is published today, along with my DCist review. If you’re free tonight, drop by Olsson’s in Dupont Circle at 7, where Jason will be signing and dicussing the book along with creators Matt Dembicki, Danielle Corsetto, and Robert Tinnell.

Here’s a page from Philip Hester’s “A Joyous Eastertide,” one of my favorite stories from the book.

eastertide.jpg

Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?

Years ago, when I interned for a not-great, not-metropolitan newspaper, a guy tried to hold up a bank wearing a Bob Dole mask.

spider-man-annual-16.jpg

This crook was far more inspired. It’s not Spidey’s first act of larceny, either.