ComicsGeek

Secret Empire or How to Assassinate a Character

There are honestly times when I wonder if Marvel Comics even likes their characters. Over the last few years we have seen them nearly destroy long-standing characters in the name of a summer crossover. Peter Parker gave way to the Superior Spider Man and for some Spider-Man has never been the same. Cyclops of the X-men turned his back on Charles Xavier’s dream(not to mention killing him) becoming the worlds worst mutant terrorist and the character never recovered.

Now it is Steve Rogers turn. Through the summer most of Marvel’s books will be immersed in the Secret Empire crossover. No longer our Captain America, Rogers is now Captain Hydra. Not surprisingly there has been quite a bit pushback against this storyline.

Basic premise is simple. The Red Skull manipulated a sentient Cosmic Cube into fundamentally changing Steve Rogers into being a secret double agent for Hydra.

It is not unusual to try to put a character in uncomfortable situations or even fundamentally place them in situations that go against their true nature. Sometimes it can work wonderfully and show the depth of these characters we have grown to love over the years. It simply does not feel like this is one of those times. The trick is sticking the landing.

One of the problems many fans have is simply Cap secretly being a member of Hydra. Regardless of the story reason it is hard for fans to choke down. Hydra is not simply a villainous organization that Captain America has battled over the years, they are the comics stand in for the Nazis from World War II. Captain America more than any other character has represented the United States fighting the evil that the Nazis have always represented. Turning that on its head is flat-out offensive to many fans.

And no matter how many times Marvel and writer Nick Spencer try to insist that Hydra no longer equals the Nazis no one is buying.

The end game is the other problem. The Secret Empire story could be great and horrible at the same time. There are interesting ideas being put out here. The idea of how devastating a villain Captain America could be is intriguing and frankly devastating. The question is what is next?

To make the story great they would have to destroy the hero of Captain America utterly making him the premiere villain in the Marvel Universe. The usual method of returning things to some semblance of normal with Cap as the great American hero…I am not sure there is a way to walk things back. He has killed, he has murdered. Not random characters but friends, heroes that look up to him. That is not something simple brushed aside.

I have friends who insist this storyline makes Cap a tragic figure(as if he was not from the get go). I do not see it. If it was brainwashing or a dozen other comic related tropes maybe. But they used the Cosmic Cube. Marvel Comics ultimate deus ex machine. So not only does Rogers think he is loyal to Hydra. He is fundamentally changed to the core. He does not think he is loyal to Hydra, He is.

Ultimately changing him back to the Cap we all know and love in such a way will feel…it will feel like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower in Dallas-it was just a dream. That might actually be worse than making him a villain.

At the end of the day Steve Rogers will be damaged goods.

 

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ArtGeek, ComicsGeek

Discovering the Artist

An empty page, a single pencil. That is where it starts. Scratching shapes and forms across the blank canvas until an image forms.

Actually that is not where it starts. It always begins inside, working out the details before you actually start the work.

I usually work in pencils. Comic-style art. At times I step back to look at where I came from. Recently I found an old drawing pad filled with my work. It was like stepping back in time.

Two decades actually. 1994. The work was better than I remember. Reminding me that if I had never stepped away from the pencils I might be a much more accomplished artist than I am now. I also saw my influences jump off the page at me. Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Dave Johnson…

That brings me to where I am now. What artists have affected my style(which seems to evolve every day)? What is actually mine versus what have I pilfered from others?

Thinking back to the artists I first loved I started with Mike Grell with his work on Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. That is what I thought comics were supposed to look like. That led to Neal Adams on Batman. And then I found Dave Cockrum. Each bringing a realistic but clearly comic work with their own signature style. Then one day I stumbled across Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It looked nothing like the comics I had seen before. It was like the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen play the guitar, Jim Steranko was a breath of fresh air(not that I needed one). Infusing graphic design with the sequential art I had fallen in love with.

These are the men who filled my imagination at a young age. As a young artist I often aped my influences. I would sit there trying to recreate what these masters did day in and day out. For a while I did well. Creating credible art…at least I thought it was.

In walked Jim Lee. Lee was brilliant and extraordinary. His work was on another level from many of the other artists I had seen. Pseudo-realistic, clean and frankly intimidating. Simply watching him draw with ease what would take me hours, days to complete was often discouraging.

I knew that a working comic artist had to finish pages a day not over a few days or a week. I could not imagine ever getting to be that fast. I was still young. Going to college. Going to work. My day of slaving over a drawing pad often consisted of an hour or two if I was lucky. For some reason it did not click that this was a full-time job for those artists. They spent hours a day just working on the art while I spent those hours tending bar. Once that did click my development grew by leaps and bounds.

My tastes changed some too. Once I felt like my work needed to look like my heroes or I was somehow failing. I would try to draw what I saw in my head and it never quite matched up. That is when I decided my style was simply the distance between what I saw in my head and what landed on paper. My inspirations were not confined to realistic, yet stylized artists. There was a broad spectrum. From Mike Wieringo and Huberto Ramos manga inspired work to the gritty look of Cary Nord. From the kinetic lines of Russell Dauterman on the Mighty Thor to the incredibly expressive work of Kevin Maguire and Aaron Kuder. Every month I come across some new artist that brings something new to my table. Things that I pilfer for a time until they too are part of my style.

It is constantly evolving. But now it is clearly mine. Whether drawing a cowboy dinosaur riding a mastodon or a simple sketch of Batman. I have a style of my own.

Time to get back to work.

Batman by Michael Tennant.

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ComicsGeek, LiteraryGeek

History: Unwritten(Work in Progress)

Ambition is a good thing. Only by tackling new challenges can we truly discover where our limits truly lie.

Recently I decided to dive into a new project. My own attempt at a Web Comic.

The entire thing is daunting. Written by me. Drawn by me. Entirely produced by me. Everything lays at my feet.

I am both excited by this endeavour and utterly terrified. One moment I am invigorated by the art and concepts I am bringing to life. The next I worry that I am about to do a tremendous faceplant for all the world to see.

The idea came from a picture I found on social media. The text was simple:

‘What if the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was an UFO…

And we were the Aliens?’

I will be honest one of the big draws for me is the best chance I will ever have to draw a cowboy dinosaur riding a mastodon. But there is more.

It may be my one chance to create my very own comic. My opportunity to display my own work to all the world.

I am still working out the details on how many installments this story will be told over. My initial thought is using single pieces of art to tell the story of each chapter. That may change. For now I simply have the beginning…

History: Unwritten

‘History, they say, is written by the victors…

History lies.’

 

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ComicsGeek, MovingPicturesGeek

Batman V Superman: World’s Finest

Someone asked me last week: Why are they having Superman and Batman fight each other in the new movie?

Why not?

It makes sense. The self-made man v the alien powerhouse. One thrives in the dark, the other literally is powered by the light.

Would you expect these two characters to get along off the bat? You put two alphas in the room they will scrap.

And it is a legendary matchup.

It is Yankees v Red Sox.

It is Ali-Frazier.

It is the big one.

The allure of putting these two at each others throat is simple: While both are heroes their methods could not be more different.

Fear. Intimidation. Brute force. Those are Batman’s tools. He is after all only human. He is not an invulnerable alien. There are shortcuts that he simply must take. Even while never taking the ultimate shortcut-he does not kill.

Superman can sit back and be the boy scout. Common criminals simply cannot hurt him. Some of his lofty morals come from knowing he is in no real danger.

At heart both men want the same thing. They want to protect the innocent. To help their fellow-man. Bruce does not want anyone to go through what he went through as a child. His obsessive pursuit of justice drives him right to the edge. Clark. Well with Clark it is more simple. Raised by Ma and Pa Kent he is a good man. A good man with incredible powers. Not using them to help others would not make any sense to him. There is a reason he was given those powers and for him that reason is to protect those that cannot protect themselves.

Clark is optimistic, glass half full. Bruce is so cynical that the glass is not there at all.

It is easy to see how they could be rivals or even enemies. It is easier still to see how they would be friends.

Who else could understand what each man must go through in his own personal crusade?

They are the worlds greatest heroes. These adversaries. And one day they could be the best of friends.

For now they are simple the World’s Finest.

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ComicsGeek, LiteraryGeek, MovingPicturesGeek

Batman V. Superman: Doomsday

In a few short days Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will premier. So very many things to look forward to. Today I choose to look at one of the villains: Doomsday.

Introduced in 1992s ‘Death of Superman’ storyline, Doomsday was a force of nature. Plowing through hero after hero until he faced Superman alone. Genetically created(thousands of years ago on Krypton) to be the ultimate survivor-Doomsday can never be beaten the same way twice.  Finally, after realizing there was no other way to beat him, Superman beat Doomsday to death with his dying breath. Of course both characters would eventually return.

When the first trailers of the upcoming movie appeared some fans complained. You see this Doomsday’s origin is different from the comics. From what we think we know the movie Doomsday will be created by Lex Luthor using the corpse of Zod from ‘Man of Steel’. This will be Lex Luthor’s Frankenstein monster. And for some this is unacceptable.

Me? I think it is awesome. Using the original version could be problematic in the movies. Taking a page from ‘the Modern Prometheus’ is brilliant. Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to mankind. What better way to fight Superman than stealing from the gods again by reanimating Zod?

With one simple change you give new life to the Luthor/Superman dynamic while also creating someone who could rival the Kryptonian’s power levels. You also create a battle which would necessitate Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman teaming up.

And isn’t that what we all really want?

 

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ComicsGeek, LiteraryGeek, MovingPicturesGeek

#WhoSpeaksForTheGingers

Comic Books are a unique form of art. They are the best of sequential storytelling. In novels a writer paints a picture, in comics artists fill in the blanks. They show you what this character or that looks like. Those depictions matter. In novels you have more wiggle room.

In recent years there has been an effort to create more character diversity in the world of comics. In years past that was not always the case. Diversity got a token response from the industry. Now there is a concentrated effort to do better. With varying success.

The upcoming Iron Fist TV series has opened another can of worms in this conversation. There are those who have complained about the actor who was chosen to portray Danny Rand/the Iron Fist. Let us ignore the fact that he seems to fit nicely in the way that Iron Fist has been portrayed since his arrival in May of 1974. For over forty years Danny Rand has been the Iron Fist, in those years he has always been portrayed as a blond-haired, Caucasian man. Apparently that is not good enough for some. These individuals feel he should be portrayed by an actor of Asian decent(ignoring the simple fact that this would go against the entire premise of the character). I am sure those that feel this way have rational reasoning for this and frankly…I do not care.

This column is not about Iron Fist. This is about the thought that you create diversity by changing the race or gender or sexual preference of characters that have been around forty, fifty years.

It does not work that way. Anyone who thinks it does has the horse around backwards.

‘Who Speaks For The Gingers?’

Gingers? I know…what the hell is he talking about now? I mention Gingers because several characters that have had their race changed have been Gingers-Wally West and Jimmy Olsen(at least the TV version of Olsen) also it seems sad that one of the greatest minorities(Gingers may not be around a century from now-red hair is a recessive gene) may soon be eliminated from our comic books. Soon we may be down to only Guy Gardner. So whenever the issue of race-bending comes up I ask: Who speaks for the Gingers?

In my mind’s eye changing long-standing characters races does not create diversity. It steals the memory from fans of these characters. It changes history. And frankly in my opinion some of these characters you are changing do more for diversity than their pale shadows ever will. Wally West certainly did. Under the pen of Mark Waid, Wally as the Flash had one of the most ethnically and progressive casts in comics. Wally was middle America and his friends and family were anything but.

Diversity is important but diversity for the sake of diversity is not the way to go. There is a better way. Create new characters. Simple. New. Characters.

Write what you know and who you know. Expand the horizons of our comics by expanding the cast, not by changing those we have. It can be done. Look at Ms Marvel, look at Miles Morales.

I have heard the arguments before. It is difficult to create lasting new characters. Some creators do not want to give their best to Marvel and DC if they cannot keep some ownership.

Both are valid. Wanting to keep your own characters is understandable. Someday perhaps DC and Marvel will do a better job compensating creators for their work…we are not there yet.

As far as it being hard. That is weak sauce. Anything worthwhile is hard. Do the work. Put your heart and soul into it. Do not cower and hide because it is difficult.

And if it is important to you it will be good and people will respond.

 

 

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ComicsGeek

DC Comics Rebirth: The Missing

In a recent column from Comic Book Resources, they reported on some of the upcoming changes at DC Comic including the full Rebirth Line.

While Rebirth issues and upcoming books were mentioned, no creative teams were announced. We truly know little more than the names of the upcoming books for what that is worth.

I am not here to talk about the announcements of what we will see. In time more details will come out and it will be easier to judge the new line then.

I would rather talk about what is missing. Those things I would seek to include in whatever the new DC Universe will be. Some that frankly taunt us with their absence.

Here goes…clearly this is not a complete list. Just those things I want(I am the writer)

…And I am confident those close to me know what is coming. Enjoy!

Legion of Super Heroes:

This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. I cut my teeth on the Legion before I knew who Batman was. For a time they were part of the bedrock that the DC Universe was built upon. Reboot upon reboot upon too many course corrections for  DC Comics has taken its toll on the once mighty Legion. It is time for someone to return the Legion to their rightful place among the monthlies(and please stop trying to connect their continuity to modern-day DC lots of things change in a thousand years)

Justice League Dark:

One of the most pleasant surprised of the New52 was Justice League Dark. A collection of supernatural characters(not sure you would call them heroes) that never wanted to be a team. Bolstered by fantastic writing and the wonderful art of Mikel Janin for much of the run. Since Convergence they have disappeared. I do not care what you call them…just bring them back. It served as a wonderful counterpoint to the normal super-goings on of the Justice League.

The Man Named Dox:

It seems like anytime DC does anything Cosmic…they have to put a ring on it(outside of the wonderful Omega Men). Frankly I am sick of it. Space is like mind-numbingly big. I think we can have space epics not involving one of the Lanterns. Enter Vril Dox. Son(sorta) of Brainiac, ancestor of future Legionnaire Brainiac 5. He also dabbled as the megalomanical leader of L.E.G.I.O.N. and the REBELS. All about the ends justifies the means. This just throws the toy box way open.

The Brave and the Bold:

I like team up books. Throwing two different heroes together is always fun. While history says this should involve Batman teaming up with random hero of the week I do not see it that way. Different Heroes, Different Arcs. Only requirement…one established hero, one from the B-squad.

Doom Patrol:

The X-Men before there were X-men. Instead of mutants they were misfits, freaks. Operating out on the edge the Doom Patrol brings us the weirdness that some of us love.

Adventure Comics:

I love an anthology series. There are simply too many awesome character not being used to leave on the sidelines. This series could give those characters a voice. I also could be used to allow new creators a place to cut their teeth before jumping on more established books.

Wildstorm:

Grifter, Midnighter, Zealot, Wildcats, Backlash, Gen13, Jenny Sparks, The Authority…for some of us they were a big part of our comics world. While DC has used some of these characters with varying success…I want a book for them to find their place in the DC universe. Using forgotten memories is suggested to be part of Rebirth…why not use it for the Wildstorm characters. They start remembering a world before, realizing that they came from another place. Their journey of discovery could bring us back the characters we remember rather than the pale shadows we have been given.

Booster Gold:

We have Blue Beetle returning and from what I have heard it may be the Ted Kord Beetle which is a thousand times better. But how do you have Blue without the Gold. With the success of Legends of Tomorrow and the time traveling adventures within can Booster be far behind. As much as time travel is part of his character it is not all there is to Booster. While he began as the endorsement Super Hero with the Super-Ego he grew in time. Before Flashpoint he had become the hero that time forgot. Sacrificing glory and notoriety to do the right thing. After some nice Booster Gold books during Convergence I thought an ongoing was coming soon. We have waited long enough…give us some Gold.

These are just a few ideas(I have more…) to get us started. The important thing is great stories with the characters we love.

The future is upon us. I cannot wait.

 

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