The All Things Fun! Blogs

24Jan/13Off

Review – Young Avengers #1

By Allison Eckel

Young Avengers 1 cover by Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson

The Young Avengers is getting another chance to assemble as their new book, part of the Marvel Now! initiative and written by Kieron Gillen, hits shelves this week. Gillen offers this insight into one of his goals with this series:

"Young Avengers in its first incarnation was about being sixteen. This Young Avengers is about being eighteen. The difference is telling and profound. At sixteen, it's still about wanting to be in the adult world. At eighteen, it's about being in the adult world whether you want to or not."

Rather than lengthy introductions to the six main characters (Loki, Wiccan, Hulkling, Kate Bishop/Hawkeye, Noh-Varr, and Miss America) or any exposition on why they should team up, the issue drops us into their day, from "morning after" confessions to Loki skipping out on his diner tab. This way, we get a sense of who they are, but are left wanting more from issue #2.

I enjoy books about teen-aged teams, and I suspect I will enjoy this one too. The challenge, I think, is navigating the teammate romance plot lines. Issue #1 sets up two of them, one causal and new, the other long-established. The new one is kept light and fun. The established romance, was given an inordinate amount of weight to set up a story arc. As long as Wiccan and Hulkling are not always sappy and cloying, this will be a great book.

This issue also includes Marvel Comic's new Augmented Reality feature for readers with cameras on their phones.

Look for Young Avengers #1 on the top shelf of All Things Fun, in the Avengers section.

10Jan/13Off

Math as Magic in Finding Gossamyr

By Allison Eckel

Finding Gossamyr, Chapter 3, in stores now

Finding Gossamyr from Th3rd World Studios is a a great all-ages, high fantasy comic, now on issue three. This is the story of siblings Jenna and Denny and how Denny's special abilities get them trapped in the fantastic land of Gossamyr, where math is magic.

When I read the Free Comic Book Day premier of this title, I was nervous. "Denny's special abilities" are similar to Autism, though that is not directly stated. But his scary smart ability in math is treated a little like a super power. I was ready to discount this book as another "Autism Bandwagon" project, like so many recent books and T.V. shows.

To his credit, writer David Rodriquez does not dwell on Denny's condition, other than to use it as both plot and character device. Denny solves the most difficult math problem in the world, which opens a portal to Gossamyr, where complex algorithms and mathematical theorems carry magical powers. Jenna never wanted to be Denny's caretaker, but stepped up anyway and now finds herself trying to keep them both alive amid strange creatures and alien cultures.

Finding Gossamyr succeeds in telling an exciting high-fantasy story that is still all-ages-friendly. And I love Sarah Ellerton's beautiful artwork. Chapter 4 is expected in March, and the company is developing a math game app called The Magic Number. Very exciting.

 

25Sep/12Off

Amethyst Informs My Worldview

By Allison Eckel

Cover to Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #1, art by Ernie Colon, 1983

The first time my husband rode a motorized two-wheeler, he was forever changed. He had ridden a four-wheeler before but it was the experience of controlling a two-wheeler that would ever-after inform his worldview. The same can be said of me and the DC Comics series Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. I was already a fan of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others, but when this series launched in April, 1983, I was nine and I was forever changed.

Amy Winston is a normal 13-year-old kid when she is given an amethyst amulet by a mysterious visitor. The amulet opens a dimensional portal to her true home and her destiny as the long, lost princess of a world full of magic, intrigue, and adults. As co-creator Dan Mishkin told Comic Book Resources’ Josie Campbell recently, this was not a crazy concept. “This is an old story about a child who dreams there might be something different, something special about them. It's a lot of stories: you discover your secret past and destiny and the challenge is to live up to it,” he explained.

And that was the hook for me: Amy magically becomes an adult on Gemworld and everyone around her expects her to be powerful, responsible, and wise. They look to her to lead them, all the while not living up to the ideal they set for her. Over the course of the first 12-issue series, Amy struggles to learn, to rise to their challenges, and still stay awake in math class when she does get to return to Earth.

The cover to Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #3 shows Granch, a montrous-looking son of Lord Dark Opal who is actually an Amethyst ally. Art by Ernie Colon, 1983.

To my young mind, the swords and sorcery parts were the icing on an already delicious cake. These stories explained that the world is so much bigger than the petty concerns of the fourth grade. That the handsome prince who smiles at you could be smiling the same way at someone else too. That some scary looking people could be just as nice as me on the inside. And most importantly, friends should work together to fight the good fight.

So imagine my excitement when DC announced the return of Amethyst in this month’s third wave of New 52 titles. Sword of Sorcery #0 introduces a revised version of my favorite character and her magical world. Writer Christy Marx has removed the age transformation in favor of an expanded role for Amy’s mom. This way, I assume Amethyst will have more guidance in the Gemworld, and perhaps will spend a little more time pouting and brooding. After all, when our mothers remain in control, don’t we all tend to pout more than we should?

This key role for Mom has also changed Amy’s childhood -- and her personality when her destiny is revealed to her. This new Amy is raised on the run, from what she is not sure. Mom trains her relentlessly to use swords, even though they live in modern America. So Amy is forever the new kid who doesn’t fit in, complete with colored streaks in her hair and a disaffected attitude.

I have to admit that I am tiring of this character device. The teen/tween who thinks no one understands her so she colors her hair and pierces her eyebrow to show that she doesn’t need their acceptance. Her home life is crap, so she’s always had to provide for herself. Then one day, she discovers/manifests/is granted some amazing ability that changes everything. In comics, this has become almost as ubiquitous as the Kid Lit usage of the 11-year-old orphan boy who will save everyone.

The first few issues of the new Amethyst story seem to focus on the women of Amy's family and their power struggle. Cover to Sword of Sorcery #3, art by Aaron Lopresti, on sale Nov. 21.

Such a dark and desperate beginning was never intended for Amethyst. Yes, as an infant she was rescued from destruction and brought to Earth to be raised in secret. That’s pretty dark. But from there, she was a normal kid. Mishkin’s explanation of this resonates with me, so I’ll share it with you despite it’s length:

“Amy grew up in a perfectly happy household and there's not reason she shouldn't have. You can do the Harry Potter version raised by the Dursleys, but I have a room in my house that's a shrine to Superman and I don't think there's anything wrong with having a happy childhood, like being raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. That's how you get to be Superman -- not by being from Krypton, but by having those parents. Amy succeeds as Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld because, even though at first she has to lie and equivocate to her parents, they raised her right. It's not the only basis for acting heroically, I understand that, but that's who Amethyst is.”

The new version of Amy Winston so far is very different from my version of Amy Winston. If I think of her as her own, new character set in a familiar world, then I have to admit that I quite enjoyed Sword of Sorcery #0. It gave us only a taste of the Gemworld, but that taste was complicated and bitter with rosey overtones. The relationship between Mom and the reigning Lady Amethyst should prove complicated and frought with battles. And we haven’t yet seen Lord Dark Opal, the orginal baddy out to rule Gemworld.

I will continue to read Sord & Sorcery as long as Amethyst is the feature. But I will not share this one with my own kids. Luckily, DC Comics is now releasing a collected edition of the orignal Amethyst stories -- almost all of them. I will snap up this for my kids, so they don’t have to unbag my well-read originals.

We will also be tuning in to the new animated shorts about Amethyst airing on Cartoon Network. What I have seen of these show us a completely different, third version of the magical princess. This one is more kid-friendly than the new comic, however, and according to Mishkin, more closely resemble his vision for the character.

Regardless of where Marx takes Amethyst, I will always carry with me the version created by Mishkin and Gary Cohn. If you're reading this to the end, I must assume you carry carry something with you as well. If not motorcycles or mystical self-rescuing princesses, then what? What childhood influence informs your worldview?

16Jul/12Off

Continuity is King

Robin #100 (May 2002) art by Andrew J. Pepoy, Chris Sotomayor, Pete Woods

By Allison Eckel

My affinity for the character of Tim Drake is no secret (reference my confession here). So, when comics geeks all over Twitter rose up to support him on July 15, my heart constricted in my chest for fear the writers planned to end him. After all, Wally West was my second favorite character just before DC Comics switched to the New 52, and I have missed him.

Apparently, Teen Titans writer Scott Lobdell made a statement at the Young Justice group panel at San Diego Comic Con regarding a change to Tim’s origin story: “…as near as I recall, as it is now Tim goes straight from being Tim Drake to being Red Robin in that there was no official period of time where he was Robin. We keep most of the origin in tact in that he was one of the few people who could get very close to learning who Bruce is...but it will be a much updated version of his origin." (as reported by Kiel Phegley, Comic Book Resources)

I first crafted the rest of this post to argue why Tim’s time as Robin pre-New 52 is important to the character, but scrapped it all in the end. It’s not worth the time to make that argument. If I did, I would also have to argue that Superman is better when married to Lois, that Dick Grayson is better with his fellow Teen Titans (Cyborg, Starfire, Dona Troy, etc.), that Batman is better without Damien, and that Green Arrow was just better.

The New 52 changed all that – and more – and as readers we need to go along for the ride or jump ship. After more than 30 years reading DC Comics, I can say that I have been with the company longer than many of its decision-makers, and will likely see many of them move on.

Scott Snyder's blue character intro boxes in Batman #1 (Nov. 2011) describes Tim as a former Robin.

So where does that leave Tim? Mired in conflicting continuity. Lobdell seems to be shepherding many characters through the upcoming #0 event, which is intended to reveal missing character details roughly one year after the launch of the New 52. Taking away Tim’s time as an official Robin would be just another in a string of altered origin details except for the four instances of direct reference as a former, official Robin. In order of publication date:

Canon: Batman #1 (Scott Snyder, writer), Teen Titans #1 (Scott Lobdell himself, writer), and Batman & Robin #10 (Peter J. Tomasi, writer). In the latter, Bruce monologues to Dick, Tim, and Damien about how they are all equally worthy of Robin status:

“AS ROBINS, YOU’VE ALL HAD YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES … BUT YOU’VE ALL HONORED YOUR TIME AS ROBIN – EVEN JASON. YOU SHARE SOMETHING – A RED AND GREEN UNIFORM OF SERVICE THAT SHOULD BE A BOND BETWEEN ALL OF YOU…” –Bruce Wayne, addressing Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne in Batman & Robin #10 (words by Peter J. Tomasi).

In Batman & Robin #10, writer Tomasi lets Bruce claim Tim as an official former Robin

The fourth reference is not canon (that is, it did not appear in a comic book): DC Comics ran a running print commentary on the Young Justice panel. At time marker 10:06, a staffer printed this:  "Scott Lobdell starts things off by talking about Teen Titans #0. It will focus on Tim Drake start and will be an origin story on how a would be Olympic star and computer genius went on to become Batman’s third Robin."

The statement by Bruce in Batman & Robin #10 is the most difficult reference to explain away. In the two issue #1s, the casual mention as a “former Robin” could fit with Lobdell’s panel statement “no official time” and the staffer writing the online commentary could have been working from a script Lobdell did not see ahead of time. But Bruce stating that each boy wore the official red and green is a sticky wicket.

Contradicting that could throw open the door for writers to contradict anything else their colleagues have written in pursuit of a new story direction. So far, the New 52 gambit has been executed well, showing that a master plan is unfolding. Lobdell's contradiciton in Tim's story undermines all of that hard work.

 

 

20Jun/12Off

Superman vs. Perfection

By Allison Eckel

Superman's S shield as worn by Christopher Reeve. (metropolisplus.com)

I defended Superman at a six-year-old's birthday party recently. We were at one of those party places that feature large inflatable slides and bouncing houses, that are big enough to accommodate 50 screaming kids. The rooms are deafening and feature one small bench wordlessly offered to the pregnant mom or the one who chose really uncomfortable shoes. I'm an old hand at this rodeo, so I know to dress for standing and have a full charge on my phone to keep occupied because the room is dark and too loud to hold good conversations.

Regardless, at this party I found myself in a good conversation.  I introduced myself to one of the few dads in the room; I am his daughter's scout leader and knew only his wife. Yelling to each other like we were at a club with 20-year-olds, we discussed what we do and I mention that I blog about comic books. At this mention, women usually give me a quizzical look, make an offhand comment, and return to a more familiar topic. Men, however, usually get more focused, express a, "Really?" heavily charged with wonder, bemusement, respect, and a hint of something -- envy? -- even if they don't like comics.

Superman Family Adventures #2 is on sale June 27th

This guy falls into the majority of guys who read Marvel comics in their youth but got away from it sometime before high school and now remember the experience with nostalgia. To that end, he expressed an interest in exposing his eight-year-old son to comics. Well, I replied, all-ages comics is something of a specialty for me. I immediately recommended he begin with the new Superman Family Adventures, which would give a nice introduction to both comics form and the best hero role model ---

"No, I don't really like Superman." He cut me off. I was silent for several seconds. He doesn't like Superman? It's Superman! He saw I was shocked and tried to cover, "He's just too perfect. He always wins and it's easy. I just don't get it." For this reason, he always preferred Marvel's Avengers cast, including Hulk, Iron Man, even Captain America.

This is not a unique perspective on Superman. Indeed, it may be The Man of Steel's biggest adversary: The perception that he is uninteresting because he is too perfect. Many Superman stories in his 75-year-history have involved him simply beating the bad guys into submission or arriving in time to save Lois. If these are the only ones you read, then you would not find him compelling.

Action Comics #1 (2011) reboots the character (art: Rags Morales and Brad Anderson)

Grant Morrison's reboot of the character's canon in Action Comics of the New 52 seeks to change that, as I wrote before. And DC Entertainment just gave us all Superman vs. The Elite on DVD, which brings Action Comics #775 (2001) to the masses. In that issue, writer Joe Kelly grabbed several moral dilemmas much debated by governments and put them in the hands of meta-humans and a Kryptonian alien. Do terrorists deserve due process or should they be killed? Should people with the power to keep humanity safe have the power to define “safe”? How should we define the line between what is right and what is righteous?

The best Superman stories also involve him using his intelligence to solve the problem instead of just his fists. When finally confronting Manchester Black and the Elite, Superman sees that an all-out brawl would solve nothing. His solution for how to teach them a lesson is elegant, intelligent, and humbling.

I like having an infallible hero who I know will always make the right decision. One who will never jump sides or cross that line. When Wonder Woman killed Max Lord in Wonder Woman #219 (2005) she crossed a line. But she’s a trained warrior; her sister Amazons would never have an issue with killing a murdering madman. Yes, she’s supposed to answer to a higher code, but I think it’s Superman who ultimately enforces that code. I would be able to take it from Batman, who in some incarnations takes a perverse pleasure in keeping his adversaries alive so they have to suffer in their continued existence. Death for them would be the easy way out. Superman's view of justice may seem simplistic compared with his two peers, but it is a difficult view to maintain. And stories like Action #775 serve to remind us all why Superman is the greatest super-hero.

Justice League Elite vol. 1 includes Action Comics #775 and more stories with members of The Elite. (art: Doug Mahnke)

But don't take my word for it. Explore Superman on your own:

If you count yourself among comics fans who never quite liked Superman, give the new movie, Superman vs. The Elite, a try.

To read Action Comics #775, you could pick up Justice League Elite, vol. 1 and vol. 2, which includes that issue along with the Justice League Elite mini-series.

To introduce younger readers to Superman and his characters, Superman Family Adventures is on sale now and features the creative team behind Tiny Titans, Art Baltazar and Franco.

And now is the perfect time to re-discover the Man of Steal in the universe of the New 52. The first eight issues of Action Comics will be released August 1 in Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Supermen and the Men of Steel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

23May/12Off

My Picks from Free Comic Book Day

By Allison Eckel

Royden Lepp's "Rust" is among my top picks from Archaia Entertainment

If you visited All Things Fun! or another Local Comic Shop on May 5, you likely grabbed three free comic books. That was a small percentage of the goodness available on that Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). I was fortunate enough to gain access to a complete stack of the free comics available. Although not all of them fit with my reading taste, a whopping 25 titles out of 76 are stories I would continue to read. That is one-third of the titles pushed by publishers at this year’s event. Remember, many free comics contained at least two stories – some as many as six – so these numbers are based on titles promoted with at least a few pages of story, not the ones treated to a single-page ad.

First, a disclaimer to explain what I look for in comics. If you read my posts, you may have an idea of what attracts me to a book. I like smart storytelling with well-crafted characters. I don’t like gratuitous violence. I like pretty pictures of pretty people, and the artists get a bonus if they use their space in creative ways. Since we are all attracted to different aspects of comics, your list would look different from mine. Following is a list of the highlights, sorted by publisher. These are all stand-out stories currently outside the mainstream of comics (read: not DC or Marvel). Follow the links for any of these that sound interesting and contact your Local Comic Shop (ahem, for All Things Fun! subs or one-time orders, stop in or call) to ask about availability.

 

"Homecoming" from Aspen Press gives alien abilities to teenagers in time for the dance (art by Emilio Laiso and Stefani Rennee).

Antarctic Press: Zombie Kid is not just a snarky spoof of the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (although it started out that way and got into trouble for it; details here). It is similar in concept in that each story centers on an awkward middle-grade boy experiencing physical and social changes. For Zombie Kid's Bill Stokes, however, those changes are not due to puberty but to a zombie virus. Hilarity ensues. Actually, I root for Bill more than his successful mainstream predecessor because he is not a lazy underachiever. Rather than a wimp hoping to go unnoticed by the world, Bill has big dreams of video game championships and keeps a diary as a training tactic. I am not a fan of Wimpy, but I do like Zombie.

Archaia Entertainment: Consider everything they publish. For FCBD this year, they offered a beautiful hardcover anthology of six titles they are bringing to comic shops now or imminently. Every one is worth consideration: Mouse Guard, Labrynth: Hoggle and the Worm, Steps of the Dapper Men (a prelude to Time of the Dapper Men), Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. Visit the publisher's site and click "titles" for a full list, including age ratings, which I much appreciate.

Aspen: Homecoming and Idolized. I am not familiar with the worlds of Aspen Comics, but they look to be populated with pretty young people with super-powers or guns, or both. There's nothing wrong with that, but I expected the stories to be as vapid as the characters looked. As a suburban mom who reads comic books, I should know better than to make such snap judgments. Homecoming centers around a group of high school friends endowed with alien abilities when a long-lost girl appears in someone's pool (naked, natch). The title links several events together, including the return of this lost girl, the aliens who may have taken her, and the eponymous high school dance. The openning pages sucked me in and I didn't want them to let go.

Cover A to "Hypernaturals" #1(artists Andres Guinaldo, Brad Walker, Mark Irwin), written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Idolized is teased with fewer pages, but just enough to give us a glimpse of a world rife with possibility. What if the world were full of super-powered people? Stands to reason that realtiy tv would eventually feature a few. Supers on reality TV is now officially a trend, with Image Comic's America's Got Powers in full swing (I recommend this one too, by the way). The sample of Idolized introduces us to Leslie, a quiet girl who wants to be the first "superhero idol" out of a need for redemption. Cut to the flash back and remember to breathe...

Boom! Studios: The Hypernaturals. What if a world-renowned super-hero group similar to JLA or Avengers called itself the Hypernaturals and rotated its roster every few years to keep the members in their youthful prime? Then, what if the latest team disappeared on their first mission in a scary, mysterious way? The older heroes would have to dust off that spandex to find them. New concepts in super-hero comics are difficult to find, and The Hypernaturals manages to stay fresh and compelling.

Image Comics: Waiting for G-Man and It Girl and the Atomics. I already mentioned Image Comics' new limited series America's Got Powers, which you should all check out. From their FCBD issue, I also recommend Waiting for G-Man and It-Girl and the Atomics. I don't actually know a lot about G-Man, but it seems funny, all-ages goodness with a smart mind at the helm (will the title actually refer to the Beckett play? I can't wait to find out).

G-Man is the creation of Chris Giarrusso. Look for G-Man, Vol. 3 from Image Comics.

It Girl takes on the physical properties of anything she touches. Touch concrete, become solid and immovable. Touch a plastic shopping bag, and float with the wind off of a high building. I think that's a pretty cool concept. Plus, the supposedly reformed villain she meets is called the Skunk, complete with bushy tail. I like the way this starts; whether I stay with it will depend on the quality and depth of the stories that unfold.

Trend Alert: Dinosaurs!

Dinosaurs seem to be an ongoing trend in comics. Four titles feature them, which may be the biggest trend outside of “superheroes.” Atomic Robo (Red 5 Comics) has a comical dino adversary; Dinosaurs v. Aliens (Liquid Comics) is dramatic and written by Grant Morrison; Jurassic Strike Force 5 (Zenescope) comes off like an after-school cartoon full of cool/macho soldiers that happen to be dinosaurs (well, it is from Zenescope); and Neozoic (Red 5 Comics) blends mysterious monster dinos with swords and female leads in a way that evokes Ring of Fire. I already enjoy the all-ages, super-cool Super Dinosaur (Kirkman’s SkyBound). Atomic Robo has a similar tone, though its brainy scientist is an actual robot instead of a kid. There may be room for both in my list, but I will definitely check out Neozoic – it seems the freshest of the bunch.

Although many of the above titles are considered "all ages," I have a selection of kid-specific comics to tell you all about next time. Until then, give a few of these new titles a try, and tell me what you think.

24Apr/12Off

Marvel’s Girl Problem

By Allison Eckel

Cover to "Wonder Woman" #253, March 1979. Art by Dick Giordano and Jose Delbo.

I saw a great photo on Twitter last week of a group of fans at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in fantastic hero costumes. The group included Thor, Captain Marvel, and Iron Man; and they were all girls. Not in a jokey, drag queen way. But in a fantastic display of girl power uber-craftiness, this group of fangirls transformed Marvel’s most indelible heroes into Wonder Woman-worthy heroines.

In the DC Universe, girls can find many strong role models, most of whom lead their own books. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, and even Catwoman are no-nonsense, strong-minded, self-confident women who are regularly kicking butt and saving the world; and selling books by the boatloads to male and female readers. That is fantastic.

Guys are not the only ones who love role models who are strong protectors of the innocent and are steadfast in their commitment to the Good Fight. I was in kindergarten when I watched Linda Carter wear Wonder Woman’s star spangled bathing suit while kicking Nazi ass and carrying an injured Steve Trevor to safety. I was instantly finished with Disney Princesses; Princess Diana rescues herself while deflecting bullets! Plus, her symbol looks really great on a t-shirt.

So, Marvel: What have you got?

Cover to isue #1 of a Storm miniseries in 1996. Art by Terry Dodson and Karl Story.

I asked at my Local Comic Shop (All Things Fun, which also publishes this blog) for examples of female-led Marvel comics titles. We couldn’t find any. She-Hulk and Elektra both had their own titles, but not since about 2009.

The Marvel Universe does have strong female characters. But since they are hidden in the pages of large team books like Avengers and X-Men, they are not approachable to outsiders. And they are not immediately inspiring to little girls. Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four may be a contender – purveyors of super-cute apparel Tokidoki have put her on a fun, pink t-shirt (available at All Things Fun, natch). A few X-Men have potential. Storm, as a weather witch, commands great forces. Rogue and Kitty Pride are younger and may be more relatable to little girls. But they require too much explanation to be embraced immediately by girls hungry for strong female heroes.

Marvel recently announced an overhaul of its Captain Marvel character, as Glenn wrote previously. New series writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is quoted in an interview on Marvels’ news site. She explained that Carol Danvers will “have to figure out how … to marry the responsibility of [the Captain Marvel] legacy with the sheer joy being nearly invulnerable.” Based on her interview, I would hazard to say that Captain Marvel could be a first for Marvel: A successful, solo-female hero book. Except…

The character’s name has a long history of association with males, and with DC Comics (see Glenn's post for deatils). Plus, the character’s new costume is highly derivative of Supergirl (they even share a last name). In fact, the look is almost the same as Kara’s in 1998’s Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl.

DC Comics' Elseworlds Supergirl and Marvel Comics' new Captain Marvel appear cut from similar cloth.

So, Marvel is on the right track to branding a powerful female hero, but so far, they are cobbling her together from what looks like left-over pieces the other kids left behind. Not exactly my idea of a great effort.

For now, I will continue my daughter’s indoctrination to the girl power available from DC Comics. Luckily, Old Navy has been selling Wonder Woman t-shirts for a while now, so I have been able to keep my daughter well-outfitted in Girl Power apparel. I will also learn from those awesome cosplayers at C2E2 and teach my daughter that when you can’t find that great female role model, you make her yourself.

 

 

 

9Mar/12Off

Rated E for Excellent, Part 2: Scouts v. Knights

By Allison Eckel

In December, I started this occasional series on E-rated, or "all-ages", comics and graphic novels. I focus on these books because I am a mom of two comics-reading kids, but also because I enjoy these stories as well. This week, I share with you two graphic novels that are on the surface somewhat similar, but deep down, very different.

Cover of "Scouts: Drafted," a new graphic novel from Kizoic/Ape Entertainment (writer Mark Finn, artis Scott Ball)

Kizoic’s new original graphic novel Scouts: Drafted – created by Kizoic COO and co-founder Brent E. Erwin and written by Mark Finn with art by Scott Ball – goes on sale this month. I picked up a promo copy based on the great artwork and Kizoic’s commitment to kid-friendly comics. Plus, as a scout leader myself, I expected the comic to share a connection with scouting hi-jinks. That’s not exactly what I found.

Here’s the pitch from the publisher’s website: “What do you do when your parents sign you up as a member of the most unlucky ‘Shrub Scout’ troop on the planet? Well, if you’re Mike Manly you do everything you can to get out! As Mike quickly discovers the only way out of the ‘Weasel Troop’ is to earn all of the merit badges needed to graduate… wish Mike good luck cause [sic] he’s gonna need it!”

Ok, cool middle-grader whose parents are forcing him to do something “educational” he doesn’t want to do is solid story telling fodder. But the publisher alienated me by casting scouting as wimpy and something to be avoided at all costs. Words for the scouts such as “unlucky,” “shrub,” and “weasel” ensure that the reader will side with the “manly” protagonist in his distaste for scouting. Strike one.

When we meet his new troop, we find a cadre of two-dimensional also-rans: the fat stupid kid, the tech-addicted brainy kid with glasses, and the skinny who is allergic to everything. The only original kid is the one lost in his own military fantasies. Too bad all of his references are too old for the age of the target reader. Strike two.

The scout leader never shows and instead phones in all of his instructions. This could be an amusing mechanism for keeping adults out of the book, but the situations are inappropriate. An unseen authority figure sends five minors into the woods with no training or supervision to identify plants. Yep, the fat stupid kid eats a berry. That’s not really a spoiler ʹcause you saw it coming a mile away. I understand the reasons for removing the adult from the story; I don’t understand making that adult criminally negligent and asking us to laugh about it. Strike three.

Scouts: Drafted is unforgivably shallow and therefore not worth my financial investment. Please give Scott Ball a more worthy project because I want to see more from this artist.

Cover to the graphic novel "Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronciles," by Frank Cammuso (2008, Scholastic)

Kizoic, consider Knights of the Lunch Table (Scholastic), which is a graphic novel worthy of my money.

Writer/artist Frank Cammuso brings us tales of Arty King (nicknamed Wart, natch) who is the new kid at Camelot Middle School. At this point, you are correct if you guessed that the whole book is filled with King Arthur/Camelot references. They are many and well-woven throughout Arty King’s world.

The first book in this series is The Dodgeball Chronicles, published back in 2008, and is available in print as well as digital through Scholastic’s digital book app for iOS and PC (Android coming soon). This story covers many events of the classic The Sword in the Stone while introducing our cast of original characters, both benign and evil.

Knights of the Lunch Table beats Scouts for value because Knights is a multi-layered story right out of the gate. I know that my kids will return to it as they learn more about Arthurian legend, or even as they encounter their own bullies in school. All I see in Scouts is a disrespectful kid surrounded by flat characters and negligent adults. If that was the creator’s reality, then he has my pity – but not my money.

 

Editor's note: Read Rated E for Excellent, Part 1: Snarked! and Cow Boy

 

22Feb/12Off

Batman Made Me Feel Icky

By Allison Eckel

Editor’s Note: Contains spoilers. Be sure to read Justice League #5 before continuing!

Cover to Justice League #5, art by Jim Lee. Image from dccomics.com

Five months into Geoff John’s reboot of the Justice League, I am still enjoying the ride. The characterization tweaks of these icons are fun to discover. But there’s a moment in Justice League #5 (on shelves now) that actually turned my stomach and left me feeling icky.

It wasn't gore such as can be found in Animal Man. It was a character moment so incongruous with my expectation that I almost put down the book.

As the heroes rush off to face Darkseid, Batman pulls Green Lantern aside for a quiet talk. GL has been rushing at Darkseid full force, and each time has been beaten senseless. So, Batman tries to talk GL into a different tactic. Ok, that makes sense. But then, he pulls off his cowl, introduces himself as Bruce Wayne, and gives a quick synopsis of the parental tragedy that drove him to vigilantism. He ends with a gentle, well-crafted moral: "This is bigger...than you are. Get out of your own way. Focus on what's important here".

WHAT?!? The most closely guarded secret in all of the DCU is Batman’s true identity. The Bat family would sooner die than expose their own identities simply because they could then be traced to Bruce. That must still be true in the New 52. Nightwing mentions this in last week's new issue #6, when he worries that his clandestine activities may be realized by his circus folk, and Nightwing's connection to Bruce Wayne will be revealed.

But, here’s Bruce, taking off his cowl in the middle of the street and easily revealing himself to Green Lantern. No, it’s wrong. I don’t like it.

Poor photo of an interior page of Justice League #5 (2012), written by Geoff Johns, art by Jim Lee, published by DC Comics

Plus, Bruce summarizes his origin story in such a well-adjusted way I have to wonder why he still feels the need to wear tights at all. Part of Batman’s milieu is that he’s driven to a vigilante life by this childhood tragedy that he does not discuss. His Bat family all know it, they know why Bruce secretly guards the dilapidated alley and theater location of the end of his childhood, but no one lets on – it is topic non grata. Batman is left alone to be angry, driven, secretive – and deserving to stand as an equal to Superman and Green Lantern.

Yet, here’s Bruce succinctly rattling off this story as if it’s a tale of a childhood week at camp that taught him a valuable lesson in leadership.

I understand that this scene is meant to show Batman’s ability to strategize and manipulate his teammates – in a good way  – while working in his origin story for all the new readers. Plus, for some reason yet unveiled, he wanted to remove the cape for transport through the boom tube. But, through the past 60-plus years, he has found other ways to be a field commander. Some New 52 changes I can live with (no Nightwing finger stripes, more than one Firestorm, etc.), but this touchy feely sensitive Batman is a step too far.

15Jan/12Off

The Modern Age is Dead

By Allison Eckel

Cover to Justice League of America #205 (1983), art by Mike DeCarlo and Geroge Perez

I should leave articles like this to my colleague Glenn Walker, the Vast Storehouse of Useless Knowledge. He commands more details about comics stretching back decades than anyone I know. But I have this idea I just can’t shake. This vague impression of a sea change is tugging at the edge of my consciousness.  We mark phases in comic craft in the history terms of Ages – Golden Age, Silver Age, Modern Age, etc. And as with history, the designation of an Age can’t come until we’ve passed through it and can look back with discerning eyes. But I believe that we can see a new one beginning now, that we will find 2011 as the beginning of a new Age in comics.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m saying this because I am a DC Comics fan and have savored the mind-numbing punch served by the New 52 marketing engine. Not exactly. One publisher’s clever re-boot is not itself cause for an Age. But with the New 52, we see on a large scale how storytelling in mainstream comics has changed.

In the All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast of January 11, I started my preview of DC by separating the books into two categories: single character and team. The stacks were tall and about even, which an odd experience for me: so many stories, about so many characters.

I began reading comics in the Bronze Age, when the team books in DC’s lineup were few, but they were anchors. The Justice League of America has a “battle royale” with the Royal Flush Gang in July 1982, then battles Hector Hammond one month later. No arcs or events, just whiz-bang action. A few of the team also had their own titles on the side in which we could explore the heroes’ alter egos, relationships, civilian workplace dramas, etc. Oh, and a chance to cultivate a gallery of villains all their own. Life with these comics was relatively simple.

Cover to Batman #497 (1993), art by Kelley Jones

Then came the age of the endless cross-over, in which you had to read the individual books to follow the events of the team. As an example, I offer the Knightfall story line in which Batman suffered a broken back at the hands of Bane in 1993. Plus the tie-ins and wrap-ups of KnightQuest, KnightsEnd, KnightMare, and whatever. Many stories in the 1990s and early 2000s arced into other books, so if you read only Action Comics and Superman, you had no idea what was going on. Many of us complied with the new structure, buying more books than we wanted, grudgingly, feeling played by our drug dealer (I assume; I don’t actually know what that feels like). In this way, I followed one very long, very expensive, printed soap opera.

With the New 52, this dynamic has changed. So far, these titles are very much character-driven, instead of event driven. I am very thankful for this; I knew I was suffering Event Fatigue when I couldn’t tell the difference between Final Crisis and 52, or even when one ended and the other began. This new focus on the dramatic journeys of characters is a more compelling reason to buy a comic than the need to complete my collection.

The single-character titles follow a now-well-known formula, albeit each in its own way. We watch each character deal with his or her condition of “otherness,” with respect to the normal people around him, and the eternal struggle between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Knowing this structure does not diminish my enjoyment of these books, because their creators are at the top of their game.

What is really exciting for me is to see this formula applied to the team books. Instead of the team of known characters rallying to fight a central bad guy like Hammond or Starro – with their character defined by their quips mid-battle  – we have actual dramatic situations and character journeys. The team books have become primetime TV dramas with more Kevlar.

Cover to Demon Knights #5, art by Mike Choi

Demon Knights continues to be my favorite team book of the New 52. It would make a fantastic television series. It opened with a bang, a rush of action and a jumble of miss-matched people reluctantly becoming a team. Over five issues, we’ve learned more about each while new questions are asked and side mysteries deepen. I would love see four seasons and a movie, but since this is comics, I will hope that creator Paul Cornell stays with it at least 12 issues.

From the high-action Blackhawks, which stays a hair’s breadth away from G.I. Joe copyright infringement, to the clandestine Stormwatch, the large stable of team books is more varied than ever for DC, but they all eschew done-in-one team battles in favor of characterization.

We see this in Justice League, which is a special case within the team books. This is the New 52’s tent pole, its main anchor, its flagship. The roll-out of this team may be unprecedented. It is certainly stealing from the modern TV drama playbook. We get to meet one, maybe two characters each issue while they uncover a few details of a huge mystery that will lead to the main bad guy of season 1 – I mean the first arc. I think this was a brilliant move by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee: To take the most known of their stable of characters, withhold them from the fans, and dole them out a little at a time in their new forms. In this, the creators have informed us that the rules in comics have changed; that we cannot compare these new books to what has come before (we will, though). As a fan, I love this new trend. It gives me a reason to invest myself (oh, and my money) in these characters, not just in their actions and exploits.

Of course, establishment of a new Age of comics requires more than a shift in storytelling methodology. There should also be changes in the industry such as distribution methods, censure guidelines, and the maturity level of most content. Oh wait, that all happened in the past year. So, we find ourselves in a new Age of comics. The Modern Age is dead. Long live… what should we call it? Maybe Glenn will have a few suggestions.