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Yeeaaahhh…

My last post was about a month and a half ago… and it was about how I’m generally too busy to keep up a blog. I think I need to call it quits, or at least call it “indefinite hiatus.

Not that surprising, really, I’m sure most people who go “hey, I should blog!” come to this conclusion pretty soon after. I just have too much on my plate right now, and this time could be better spent. It was a lot of fun, but not enough to merit the energy it took up.

I may bring this back someday, or I may not. Guess we’ll see.

Too Much

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So I’ve just got back my computer, after it was caught in a horrific flood of epic (inch-high) proportions… just in time to be in the middle of midterms. So I am slightly overworked at the moment. Next week is spring break, so hopefully I’ll get a blog or two up in that time.

If you like it when I address the comic book side of my interests, I suggest that you take a trip over to Pulp Secret, where you can watch The Stack: a weekly video review show on comic books that I always make sure to watch now. The guys who do this also do a weekly talk show with comic book creators and the like, which you can go to for about five bucks if you’re in NYC. Just thought I’d point them out because they have just the right amount of snark, instead of far too much, like most of us comic book geeks these days.

See you soon, I hope!

The Deluge

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Posting will slow down even more for a little while I’m afraid. My laptop was caught in a flood.

Yeah, I hate dorms. Never lived in one, but I hate them. My girlfriend does live in one, and we woke up Sunday morning to find water almost up to our ankles covering the entire floor of her bedroom… a floor upon which was my computer, amongst many other things, because the room was too small for me to find anywhere else to put it.

Besides all of the emotional damage of freaking out due to waking up to a flood, there is also the fact that my computer may well be dead. It is currently drying off, and so I have not tried to turn it on, but the moment of truth comes tomorrow, so we shall see.

Back soon, I hope.

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I was understandably geeked when I discovered that there would be a new Zorro comic this year, and written by Matt Wagner, no less. (That it’s by Dynamite, the same company who’ve been releasing the current Lone Ranger comics, which I’ve heard are pretty good, is a plus.) So, naturally, when the first issue came out this past Wednesday I snapped it up immediately. (I’m glad I was able to get a copy with this alternate cover: it’s damn good, click for a larger version.) Sorry to have yet another comic review but, as I’ve said before, during the semester it becomes much easier for me to read comics than good old fashioned books–not any sort of reflection on either medium, just of the fact that comics tax one’s brain in a wholly different way.

It should take but a short trip through my old posts to see that the Zorro franchise is one that I’ve always loved. I may have never gotten around to reviewing the most recent novel of the mythos, but a click on the Zorro category will bring up a good number of reviews. It’s a series for which I have great affection, and not a little knowledge… and this is part of why I was a little disappointed with the first issue of the new Zorro comic.

Don’t get the wrong idea, I liked the comic. It’s just that it felt like more of the same, and considering that it basically told the beginning of Allende’s book, interspersed with the beginning of McCulley’s original novel, that’s an understandable reaction from one who’s used to the story. Zorro himself (in full regalia and as an adult, that is) only showed up for two pages in the whole thing, and so I couldn’t help but think that maybe it would have been a better choice to hold off on the origin story until after the first story-arc, or to give it in bits and pieces throughout a few of the stories.

That the bulk of the origin being told is from Allende’s book, which I honestly had some problems with, definitely set me up to be disappointed, but all in all it was handled quite well. It helped that there was actually dialogue (something that I felt was sorely lacking in that most recent novel). If Wagner takes just the basics of that origin story but doesn’t bother with too much from the book (like the ending’s need to incorporate every version of the mythos, even when they don’t fit, or the weird idea at the end that SPOILER Zorro is actually three characters instead of just Diego END SPOILER) then it should be just fine. The “next issue” picture did make it clear that more of Zorro’s childhood is going to be told in a month, which is too bad because I do feel like it’s kind of a slow start. I think that there’s a definite reason that a real Zorro origin story wasn’t even commissioned until 2005: for a long time the character stood well enough on his own without one, and writer after writer, in medium after medium, figured that it could be ignored in favor of getting to the good stuff.

But, lest you misread me, let me point out that the writing in this new comic is very good and evocative of the kind of story being told, and the art is beautiful. The two pages in which Zorro actually flashes through the story in costume are positively creepy and electrifying, so there is definitely something to look forward to. It all came together beautifully in those short moments, so the potential is definitely there. What’s more, between Diego’s Native American mother’s unapologetic view of her culture, and his Spanish father’s rhapsodizing about the Spanish Empire, I think we’ll have some good character ground to mine as well. Beautiful to look at, and brimming with possibilities for where it can go, the new Zorro comic may have to climb a bit, but all told I’m excited to see what will happen when we get past the exposition.

BONUS!! Here’s a hilariously ridiculous and out-of-place cover from the last attempt that was made at a Zorro comic. I never read this series, but apparently it was not too good: and if the covers are any indication, I don’t doubt it. Enjoy!

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So awhile ago I happily discussed The Next Issue Project, wherein many modern-day writers and artists would essentially continue defunct old series from the golden age of comics, using characters that are now in the public domain. A great idea indeed. Then, more recently, I geeked out over the fact that it was, supposedly, about to come out, and was going to include characters created by the great, twisted Fletcher Hanks.

Unfortunately, it did not end up coming out the week that I expected. I have no idea why this was, and it’s perfectly likely that it was the fault of the website I heard the news at, and nobody involved in the project, but one way or another, Fantastic Comics 24 finally came out this past Wednesday. And it was good… very good.

Erik Larsen is behind all of this, and in his column for Comic Book Resources I think he summed it up very nicely:

This isn’t a depressing “everything has turned to crap and look how old, tired and silly looking these characters are” story — we’ve seen those tepid tales time and time again ever since Alan Moore trotted out Marvel Man. This isn’t some pale imitation of an Alan Moore story — it’s an upbeat, energetic “look how cool these characters are and can be” type of thing.

You can read the full column here, if you like.

Now, I can’t speak to why the book took awhile to come out, but I can guess. The Next Issue Project is made up of many short stories by some of the best creators around, and not only that, but different people working on the issue had different ideas concerning what sort of paper they wanted to use. Some preferred nice, clean, new paper, while others wanted something that would look and feel like an old, faded comic book. It turned it into a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situation, as the kind of paper, and the “quality” of the colors and inks literally change from story to story. This is just one example of the kind of care that was put into the book–care that makes it worth the wait, and the 6 dollar price tag.

I should also add that the thing is gigantic: bigger than your average comic book in all dimensions. There are 64 pages, yet the longest story only runs 13, and the amount of crazy and incredible ideas per page is ridiculous. Essentially, it seems that everyone was given free reign to do whatever they wanted with the characters: some go more for parody, some go for a surreal update, and just about every other base is touched as well. We get two separate, funny takes on the teenage sidekick, one of which is actually a two-page prose pulp story (the likes of those which were often included in old school comics).

The whole thing is great fun from end to end, with the closest thing to a misstep being the bizarre last story, which works just fine but is a strange note to end the proceedings on. The highlight, though, is definitely the beautiful and dreamlike resurrection of Fletcher Hanks’ seminal Stardust character, by Mike Allred and Joe Keatings. It’s pitch-perfect, hitting the right notes without seeming derivative, and telling its own nostalgic story without simply parodying everything about Hanks’ work that was worth laughing at (earlier on, a Space Smith story by Tom Scioli does just that, and does it very well).

Without going into a specific story-by-story breakdown there isn’t much else to say, but rarely does one find so much great work so closely packed together–the different stories all came from the same general idea, yet none of them are too similar. I can’t wait for the next issue.

R.I.P.

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Of course it’s always painful when one of your favorite writers dies–especially one who you read voraciously in your youth. What else is there to say?

R.I.P. Steve Gerber

I suppose I should have paid more attention to goings on, as I didn’t even know that he was sick. But goddamn. I wish I had read his blog, but now that he’s gone it’s too difficult: too many posts about what he was working on and his health problems for me to take.

What’s more, it made me immensely sad to see that, when looking for a picture for this post, the search term “Howard the Duck” mostly brought up images related to that god-awful movie. More people should know Gerber’s legacy, and while he was responsible for many wonderful creations, I think most can agree that Howard the Duck is way up there. Read up: either in cheap or expensive editions.

Hail Hydra!

519-ironfist_001.jpgSorry about the long, long, long, long, long, looooong absence. School. Bleh. I’ll continue to post when I can, but it won’t be as often as I’d like.

Moving on, it’s funny that my three favorite current comic titles are all a) ongoing series featuring perennial C-list characters, and b) written by a team of two writers. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that writing duos have ever been very commonplace in comics–especially not in mainstream comics. Those three books, by the way, are The Incredible Hercules, Booster Gold, and The Immortal Iron Fist. I recommend picking all three of these up if you like comics, but for now I’m going to tell you about the latter: probably one of the most critically lauded series around right now… but I’m gonna be unoriginal and gush about it anyway.

The last thing you’d expect from the deliciously convoluted Marvel universe would be that anyone would find any corner of it in which they could set up world-building shop and start forming an entirely new mythos and set of rules. Nearly 50 straight years of continuity–along with bits and pieces that trickled in from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s–have made said fictional universe a very crowded place, yet writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction manage to take the rather undeveloped idea of K’un Lun, a mystical Chinese city that only appears on our plane of existence once a decade, and flesh it and its world out ridiculously well.

It all centers, naturally, around Danny Rand, otherwise known as Iron Fist, a Marvel superhero created in the 1970’s to cash in on the kung fu boom, whose never really done much in the Marvel universe as a whole. His origin was that he was trained in the aforementioned K’un Lun, and when his martial arts expertise aren’t quite enough to get the job done, his fist glows and he… punches harder, I guess.

The point is, like Hercules and Booster Gold respectively, Iron Fist is enough of a c-lister that his writers can do whatever the hell they damn well please, and so they decided that K’un Lun is only one of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, each of which are mystical and don’t quite exist in our dimension, and (more importantly to Vol 1: The Last Iron Fist Story, the first trade, which I am technically reviewing) they also started to show the history of K’un Lun’s past Iron Fists, since Danny is not the first.

iron-fist-6.jpgWhat this means, is that suddenly the rather inconsequential superhero Iron Fist (for whom I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot) is suddenly given a good deal of weight that he was never really allowed to hold before. It makes for a great read, and the frequent flashes that we get of the lives of past Iron Fists (not to mention the first issue after what’s collected in this first trade, which exclusively concerns the only female Iron Fist) make wonderful little interludes: an anti-colonialist slaughtering the English here, a pirate queen clearing out a bay there, and so on. Not to mention the so-called Golden Age Iron Fist, but I’ll get to him in a minute.

Further aiding the series is the fact that it does, in fact, still take place within the greater Marvel universe, and this is never forgotten. That universe is itself in a state of turmoil these days, and that affects Danny’s life quite largely at first. What’s more, we are also treated to some wonderful little character moments involving our hero and longtime odd-couple-type best friend Luke Cage, not to mention the Daughters of the Dragon (too bad Misty Knight has lost her afro in recent issues, but in this first story it is there in all its glory). Lest you worry, however, rest assured that one can go into the book with little to no knowledge of the Marvel universe and still get a whole hell of a lot of enjoyment out of it. Especially fun, though, for us fans is the depiction of supervillain/terrorist organization HYDRA, who are shown as stock villains skewed slightly towards the obscure in a very funny way (that wouldn’t be funny if I just explained it here).

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Now, as I mentioned earlier, one of the best parts of the series is one of the past Iron Fists: most specifically, the one that came right before Danny. His name is Orson Randall, and he’s a WWI/20’s & 30’s pulp hero version of the character… which is such a great spin that it’s ridiculous. In the modern-day section of the story, Randall is an old and grizzled bad-ass drug addict, which is plenty interesting on its own, but to make it even better, we’re treated to a good number of flashbacks involving the character. We see how WWI scarred him, but we also see him having a drinking contest with one of The Lightning Lords, (silly old fashioned villains) and learn that his father was a Jules Verne-ish 19th century science hero. I should add that all of these cool little bits and pieces have been fleshed out even more in the issues to come after that first book, and Randall himself is now quite clearly an out-and-out Doc Savage type hero, complete with a team of 1920’s archetype sidekicks. (And did I mention that every flashback, about whichever character, utilizes artists other than the book’s very good regular one? It’s all quite reminiscent of Tom Strong, actually.)

Randall manages to bring to the series, and the Iron Fist mythos, a silly pulpiness (that goes in a whole other direction than the kung-fu-flick silly pulpiness that’s already there) as well as, at the same time, a real sense of gravity and pathos, which is incredible. More importantly, though, he just adds to the overall richness of these stories, and the very world that’s being created around them.

Superhero, chop-socky, old school pulp, and 19th century science fiction are so many of my favorite things that seeing them mixed so well almost makes me mad that I didn’t somehow do it first. I’m kinda ashamed that I came to this series so late, because now I see that it is as goddamn good as everyone’s been saying.

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