Monday, September 28, 2009

Unsung Comics Heroes: Joe Kelly, Part 1



When you think of the big name writers of the last ten years who comes to mind.

Top of your head:







Each great writers, all have told tales most could hold up as "quintessential" reading material.

All have worked on big name characters and walked away having told some great stories but out of the names mentioned few have told a story most could hold up as "the definitive superhero story."

Morrison's ALL-STAR SUPERMAN makes a great case for the title and while Simone is writing what I currently think is the best mainstream title going in SECRET SIX, it has nary a hero in the bunch and has become a beast, in and of itself.

If you asked me to show you everything a superhero comic should be, each and every time, the answer would always be the same:


It's simply a comic that says something. About the state of comics, the state of the hero, the state of the genre and who better to represent it all than the original superhero, SUPERMAN.

From the photo-realism of the Tim Bradstreet cover to the brutal yet heroic interior art of artist Doug Mahnke, this is what I have come to call, "quintessential."

The story opens up with the world enthralled by the actions of the superteam, The Elite, a team known for the lethal brand of justice in which they dispense of foes. Countries across the world embrace their ways and hail them as the new heroes of the 21st century. In a world with a Superman, their feats make him seem passe', archaic. Superman knows their ways to be wrong and quietly stands in defiance of The Elite by standing firm by holding onto his beliefs. The new way seems to have won out as The Elite calls Superman out in front of a worldwide audience. Just as it seems The Man of Steel may have to resort to their tactics in order to stand against this new power, Kelly pulls a brilliant fast one that left this reader, literally, covering his mouth to muffle a yelp.

As the battle's done, Kelly gives Superman the final say, in what I think is the most perfect ending to a comic book ever, leaving The leader of The Elite and the reader with these words:

"Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where DIGNITY, HONOR and JUSTICE become the reality we ALL share-- I'll NEVER stop fighting. Ever."

These simple, eloquent words.

I was well into being an adult as I read them and I felt a shiver go down my spine as he put into words exactly the way I never could about the way I felt about truth, justice and ultimately, what I believed to be The American Way.

It's one of the rare times comics have ever transformed me, spoken to me.

Just as importantly, he brought into clarity why I love the comics medium so damned much.

It is where heroes soar.

Joe Kelly gave us back Superman, he returned to us, our childhood hero.

Better yet, he proved once and for all that he'd never left.

Monday, September 21, 2009

52 Reasons 52 May Have Been The Comics Event Of The Decade

In no particular order:

Grant Morrison's return to the character that helped put him on the map, Animal Man.

52 re-instated Animal Man to the DC Universe.

Adam Strange, Starfire, Lobo and Animal Man as an intergalactic Fantastic Four.

It introduced Batwoman.

Good or bad, DC Comics got actual media coverage.

DC's gracious handling of Batwoman's media coverage.

It had a mysterious island full of evil scientists including Dr. Sivana.

It had Veronica Cale, world's greatest Wonder Woman villain, in it.

Black Adam's wordless dismissal of Veronica Cale on Oolong Island said more about who he is than any thousand words could.

They were going to kill Veronica Cale in 52 but at the last minute, they chose not to do so.

"Who is Supernova" was one of the best comics detective stories ever to be published outside a Batman comic.

Ralph Dibny's acting skills.

Grant Morrison writing Lobo.

Greg Rucka writing The Question.

Renee Montoya was set-up to take up the mantle of The Question.

The back-up origin stories featuring artists closely associated with any given character, example: Adam Hughes illustrating Wonder Woman and Power Girl.

The rise and fall of The Black Adam Family.

Mister Mind?!?

Pound-for-pound one of the creepiest moments in comic book history: Wicker Sue Dibny.

Ralph Dibny outsmarting Neron, something it took the combined DCU to do ten years, prior.

T.O. Morrow's reminding us exactly who he is:

The set-up of Booster freaking Gold's new role as "the greatest hero you've never heard" of within The DC Universe.

The sheer brilliance of Lex Luthor's "Everyman Project."

The utter horror as he deactivates the project over the Metropolis skies.

DC Comics has a Crime Bible. A Crime Bible.

The return of Skeets.

The Great Ten.

Black Adam and American soldier/intergalactic cop Hal Jordan discussing global diplomacy.

Black Adam's use of Terra-Man as an example to all.

The idea that The Persuader is a villain legacy that will last clean into the 31st Century.

Kandor plays a fairly prominent role.

The "nostalgia" of an Isis within a DC Comic.

Ralph and Sue Diby, Ghost Detectives.

Black Adam declares World War III.

The cementing of Black Adam as one of The DC Universe's greatest of super-villains.

The cementing of Black Adam as not truly being a super-villain but a power unto himself.

Booster Gold going back to his old football days and calling his final football play, "52."

The Blimp, Oddman and Beefeater as pallbearers at Booster Gold's "funeral."

The re-establishment of The Monster Society of Evil.

The shock of the death of Osiris.

Proof-positive, once and for all, that you can't just name yourself The Justice League.

Even if it was only for two pages, someone made Halo from The Outsiders a pretty interesting character.

The idea that The DC Universe is bigger than Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman.

It gave us the return of The Multiverse.

The stories told in cover artist J.G. Jones' 52 covers.

52 consecutive issues in 52 consecutive weeks.

DC Comics was seen as being innovative for the first time in decades.

Solid art from people who understood the importance of getting the art in on time.

Keith Giffen's role as storyboard artist gave each issue, no matter who the artist, continuity.

The anticipation of every new issue.

We will never see something of this scope again wherein four of comics' most talented writers, Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns, work together and at the top of their game to bring us one story, over one period of extended time.

We simply didn't know how good we had it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dream Cross-overs

As I was reading the latest issue of the rather great JSA vs. Kobra mini-series last night, I got to thinking thinking that there needs to be a massive inter-company cross-over called Kobra vs. Hydra vs. Cobra where all these terrorist organizations fight one another with Checkmate, S.H.I.E.L.D. and G.I. Joe teaming up to take them out. Shenanigans ensue.

I figure Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Chris Gage should write the thing. This given Rucka's awesom runs on espionage titles like Queen and Country and Checkmate, Brubaker's stellar work on Captain America, and Gage's recent G.I. Joe/Cobra mini.

On art, well, did you catch the latest issue of Captain America Reborn? I can't say I have a fondness for splash pages, but hot-damn if Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice didn't make my jaw slack in awe of the many they included there. They're chanelling Kirby and Sterenko which is exactly what a KvHvC comic would dearly need.

Oh, to dream.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Detective: Comics

My master is no more.

Third time's the charm?

I have lit a fire without a spark.

I have been three and am three, again.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Making It

Hello loyal Second Printers!

So I thought I would take a moment for flagrant self-promotion. The esteemed James Rambo and I have started a web comic. It is called Gluten Free! and it is basically about the exaggerated adventures of myself, James and my wife, Hannah. I am really interested in what you guys think. If you like it check back every Wednesday for updates. If you really like it tell all your friends. If you hate it, well, check back to confirm that hate. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Canon Fodder

We as comics fans are always looking for comics' next big bad-ass.

We turn our hopeful imaginations towards whichever character has the biggest gun, the wittiest lines and taking them into our collective heart, we bestow upon them the title of "bad-ass."

Deathstroke? Has an eyepatch, a goatee, a gun and a daugther named Ravager. Bad-ass.

Punisher? Has a skull on his chest, guns and an attitude. Bad-ass.

Wolverine? Bad-ass archetype. Smokes, has claws, can't get drunk, chases other men's women, can't be killed. Will kill.

Bad. Ass.

I'm sick of 'em. Had it. Done.

Wanna know why? Upon reading Teen Titans, I had a revelation.

There is no badder man in comics than Cyborg.

Yes, that Cyborg. The one from The Teen Titans or "Titans," as it's called now.

The son of two college professors, the man's a genius, possessing an IQ of nearly 170.

He's been the perfect soldier.

That said he's usually been viewed as The Teen Titans "muscle," usually drawing fire and playing cannon fodder allowing for the other Titans to rally/backflip/soar/race into re-action. Or when the story needs, he's usually rigging up some sort of device that allows the other Titans to rally/backflip/soar/race into re-action.

Made all the more impressive when you simply have to consider this:

This "bruiser" who puts his mind and body on the line for his fellow Titans is "disabled."

Look past the shiny, sophisticated prosthetics and I'd seen something I'd never even considered while reading this book. For nearly thirty years, I've been reading of the adventures of a quadruple amputee.

Everyday, this man pushes aside the excuses and goes out there into his world and fights on a level few, on any comic universe, could hope to match. He does so out of loyalty. He does so out of compassion. He does so because it's right. He does so simply because he still can.

I know it's comics and it's high fiction but it's amazing to me that this genre has presented us with an opportunity to view someone many elsewhere would view as handicapped as a true, honest-to-God, no-sympathy-necessary superhero from Day: One.

That, to me, says something about just how crazy of a medium comics is. We view final and blackest nights and read in awe, wondering of what comes next. Meanwhile, a man, a total bad-ass has quite literally been walking around for thirty years and we don't even blink.

In a universe of alien princesses who fire starbeams, ex-kid sidekicks becoming respectively, The Flash, Batman, Donna Troy and Red Arrow, moving on to their next level of comics evolution, where's the respect for the character who literally, covered their asses?

When does Cyborg get to join The Justice League?!?

Detective: Comics

I have been captive and liberator.

I have been both replacement and mainstay.

I have been a prince and a pauper.

I am here and yet I am "no more..."


Detective: Comics

I was recently a slave to time, fighting for my life.

After years of silence, I'm now regularly able to be teen and heard.

I fought a holocaust with lightning.

I got animated upon seeing leagues into my future.


Friday, September 4, 2009

S.P.A.P.* : Hawkman vs. T-Rex

*Second Printing's Awesome Panel

This week's awesome panel (captured in full cameraphone crappiness) is for Devon.

From WEDNESDAY COMICS #9, Hawkman by Kyle Baker:

Oh, seven hells yes! He's Hawkman, goddammit!

Runner Up:

From STRANGE TALES #1, Michael Kupperman's Sub-Mariner


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This week(?) in small press

I don't wind up exposing myself to much small press. It's not that I don't love comics enough to search out that which is not in the mainstream, it's just that I don't have the time or energy to do it as often as I'd like. Buying comics in the mainstream is easy, finding out about what's coming out, reading about creators you like and what they're up to is simple, knowing where to find new books is a no brainer.

The small press is littered with literally tens of thousands of wannabes, most consisting of delusional writers and artists who think they're better than they really are. That's not to say they can't get better, but in order to get better they need to work, and sometimes in the process they let out a lot of the rough stuff. Hell some of those guys slip into the mainstream far too early producing dubious art or stories barely worth the coin or attention.

But I'm going off track. Last week's Toronto Fan Expo exposed me to a few small press comics, Canadian at that, worthy of more attention than just sitting on a table being ignored by the masses:
(apologies for the image quality, I don't have a scanner)

Squared Circle by Dave Howlett
I was doing some searching about on the Google looking for more details on Dave Howlett's Squared Circle but not finding much. I did, however learn two things about Mr. Howlett: 1) he is the manager of the awesome Halifax comic book store Strange Adventures and 2) he is a contributor to the awesome blog Living Between Wednesdays. Add to that he's the inker on the awesome G.I. Joe send-up Snakor's Pizza and the man is a triple threat of awesomeness.

Make that a quadruple threat, because Squared Circle itself is pretty damn awesome. The planned 5-issue series takes the reader back to the early 1980's wrestling culture, just as wrestling was on the cusp of becoming a cultural phenomenon. The wrestling federation in the book is a WWF analog, but it's not a straight satire or parody of Vince McMahon and company (more "The Wrestler" and less "Nacho Libre"), instead Howlett uses it as inspiration to tell behind-the-scenes tales of wrestlers, their managers, and the commercialization of their "sport".

Howlett's art is solid, if unassuming at first, but he draws methodically planned out, and strategically executed wrestling sequences that, as witnessed in the panels above, use creative and exciting angles that TV cameras could never get in the squared circle. This book should be much sought after by any wrestling fan, especially those who were really into the WWF as a kid, but it's appeal could even extend to fans of behind-the-scenes shows like "The West Wing" or "Sports Night".
(This issue and subsequent can be ordered by contacting shop-at-strangeadventures-dot-com).


Harry + Silvo by Eric Orchard
I have a new artist to add to my favourites list. Eric Orchard's Harry + Silvo ashcans landed before me by happenstance but one look and I was transfixed by his wonderful little creations. Two books, the first "Harry + Silvo fish for garbage", the second "Harry + Silvo + The Girl in the Purple Boat" run a total of 20 pages, each a stand-alone micro-story told stream-of-consciousness style, and are meticulously illustrated in a gorgeous line style reminiscent of Sonny Liew or Skottie Young.

Harry is a bear, Silvo a raccoon, and together they have quirky little (and I do mean little) adventures in the clouds above the Earth. Orchard manages to convey a deliriously grand scope in his illustrations, having an eclectic charm like the elaborate stage backdrops in early 20th century silent films. By the sounds of things over on Orchard's blog there's more Harry + Silvo on the way, which, if you haven't guessed yet, is a very good thing.


Lemuria by Adam Prosser
It seems rather self-serving to pimp the work of friends and colleagues, but at the same time, I like to think I have enough integrity to promote only that stuff which I'm enthused about. Both Devon and I have been working with Adam Prosser for a few years now over at Thor's Comic Column, and like all of the gang there he writes a hell of a review. Also like much of the gang, Adam is an aspiring writer and artist, telling his tales primarily on-line and having seen some of his work, I knew he was getting pretty good at it. I had no idea just how good he already was.

Lemuria is a black and white print collection of the first story (available on-line, in color) with a special print-only back-up story. Adam's art is absolutely solid. He's defined a definite personal cartooning style (mid-way between Anime and Disney), and his line is incredibly confident (this is even more evident in black and white than on-line). His detail work is tight and the body language and facial expressions of his characters have impeccable comedic timing. I'm not only impressed, but envious at how good he is.

Lemuria takes place in a fantasy land of long ago with barbarians and sorcerers and evil demons, all rife for comedic exploitation. The story's main character is Sorcera, a teenaged girl at a magic school who doesn't fit in. Pining out on the balcony one day, she encounters Swordi, a full-figured, cheerful version of the Red Sonja/barbarienne stereotype, who is attacking the school believing it to be a evil stronghold full of treasure. She's partly right. With genuinely witty repartee and a more-sly-than-overt play on various fantasy genres, Lemuria plays out like an estrogen-loaded counterpart to Evanier and Aragones' Groo.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was delighted by his creation, one which is honestly deserving of much wider exposure than just self-publishing.

A 24 Year Search Comes To An End

As a youth I was often visiting my Grandparents in the small Northern Ontario town of Terrace Bay, (pop'n appx 2000). Their town center consisted (still does, in fact) of a street-long strip mall, where, years ago, my uncle owned and operated a ladies' fashion store that my Grandma also worked at. When we'd land into town, we'd often stop there first before going to anyone's house, because invariably that's where we'd be more likely to find our family.

A few storefronts to the right was the convenience store, where I'd often run to buy nickle candies, boxes of Nerds and Bazooka Joe gum, as well as invest in a comic book or two after seeing Grandma who'd dole out a $5 bill. There was never a "don't spend it all in one place" warning.

A few storefronts the other way was the bakery, whose delectable scent lives with me to this day, and whose honey glazed donuts have yet to be matched. Further down was the department store, a small affair for a small town. Down in the basement, past the braziers at the foot of the steps, I found a rack that contained a holy treasure of comic books, bagged up not in collector's quality plastic with acid free backing board, but in a cheap plastic with a printed ribbon that stated in bold yellow "3 / $1". The great thing was the bags, they weren't sealed, so you could flip through and find three comics you actually wanted.

It was here in the fall of 1985 that I started my decades long love affair with DC Comics, for it was here that I found my first issue of Who's Who, specifically issue #3, with Blue Devil front and center on the cover, and issue #5 with Cyborg taking prominence. Suddenly I was quickly seeing the breadth and variety of characters comics had on a level I hadn't previously conceived, with my limited collection of comics to that date leaving me familiar with all the A, B and C level characters, but someone like Black Orchid, B'Wana Beast, Claw the Unconquered or Crazy Quilt I would perhaps never have even cared to know about.

I became obsessed with completing the series and spent the next year hunting down the rest of the issues at discount retailers, since I had no idea that the direct market even existed yet. By the time the Who's Who Update '87 had come out I had every issue of the series, save one... the second issue. The reason for that is quite obvious:

The second issue of Who's Who has for many years eluded me because Batman is popular and for some weird reason this single issue of Who's Who became more popular than the rest, thus more in demand and worth more. But it also made it harder to find, and in my scattered searches over the past 20 years I've not only not acquired the issue, but I've never even come across it before...

Until now.

At the Toronto Fan Expo this past weekend, flipping through the "W" section of the dollar bins (or 30/$25) at a vendor for some issues of World's Finest I came across it and I don't think I could have been more pleased... it was almost that look of when Indiana Jones comes across the idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc only when I pulled it from the bin a giant boulder didn't come chasing after me.

Reading through this lost treasure last night, it weirdly felt like a piece of my missing childhood had been restored to me. Although the issue is pretty loaded with Bat-related things, there's still plenty of room for obscure characters I should have known about 20+ years ago. I mean, Ben Boxer, jesus, why didn't I know about this guy. If I did I would have had a desire to read Kamandi a long time ago... he's officially my new favourite obscure DC Superhero. Until now, that was reserved for Forager. Black Bison... hey I saw him in an ad for an issue of Firestorm back in the 1980's, now I know what he's all about! That wicked illustration of the Balloon Buster by Joe Kubert really should have been embedded in my retinas years ago.

And while a little piece of my missing childhood has been filled, a little piece of my childhood also died reading this comic, as I realized that my beloved Who's Who is decidedly lacking in information and details on the characters and their powers. I mean the Beautiful Dreamer and Big Bear entries are almost exactly the same. I never did read the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe as a kid (Who's Who really was responsible for turning me into a raving DC die-hard) what I've seen of it as an adult show it to be far superior in this department. Though, I suppose, Who's Who really is far more readable and visually stimulating for a 9 or 10 year old than the info-dump over in Marvel Universe Handbook.