Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Night Fights

You know, if I'm up too far past my bedtime, I get a little cranky.

Sleepwalk, though, gets violent.

So, let me think ... do you have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat her, or are you better off waiting until later in the day, when she's more likely to be awake...?

It's a puzzler, that's for sure --

-- but no one snoozes on Bahlactus!

[From "Labyrinth," Doom Patrol vol. 2 #28 (December 1989). Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Richard Case, inked by John Nyberg, lettered by John Workman, colored by Daniel Vozzo.]
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Wonder Woman is a born warrior, trained in unarmed combat and the use of a wide range of weapons, and given powers by the gods and goddesses themselves -- but even so, she never stops learning.

Kind of puts the lie to any thoughts of towel-snapping locker-room scenes on Themyscira too, I suppose....

Don't tug on Bahlactus' cape!

[From "Bird Of Paradise/Bird Of Prey!" in Wonder Woman vol. 2 #16 (May 1988). Written by George Perez and Len Wein, pencilled by Perez, inked by Bob Smith, colored by Carl Gafford, and lettered by John Costanza.]
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Better late than never: Bottomless Belly Button

It is a truism in comics that the writer(s) and artist(s) involved put on the page what they deem to be necessary for the reader's understanding. I read a lot of superhero comics, so I see a lot of detailed muscles and intricate cityscapes.

Therefore, the unique style of cartoonist Dash Shaw, on display in his massive graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button (published by Fantagraphics) took some getting used to. Caped-crimefighting aficionado that I am, I would call Shaw's work "minimalist" in the sense that it uses distinctive storytelling shortcuts. For example, one almost-caption, accompanying a swirl of floating points, reads "sunlight makes dust in air visible." In this black-and-white book, morning is noted with "orange dawn." To me it was an unusual approach, but not an unwelcome one; and it serves Shaw well by allowing the reader some interpretive freedom.

As for the subject matter, Bottomless Belly Button concerns the Loony family, all gathered at the Loony beach house for the announcement that the elder Loonys are getting divorced. Naturally, their various reactions (or lack thereof) make up the bulk of the book, which spans the limited amount of time the Loonys are "on vacation." Son Dennis plunges into denial. Daughter Claire meditates on her own divorce and attempts to bond with Jill, her own teenage daughter. Son Peter mopes about his lack of a social life. It's not unfamiliar, and it kept reminding me of the independent films I used to watch more of (unfortunately, none comes to mind but Little Miss Sunshine, and that's probably too commercial a comparison).

However, BBB needs to be told through sequential art, because it takes good advantage of the medium. Not unlike an old-school superhero story, it pauses for cataloguing: here are the Loonys in happier times, arranged in designated spots in their house, their station wagon, the dinner table, etc., like a starship crew manning posts or the Justice League in personalized meeting-room chairs. BBB also includes print-favoring excerpts from the Loonys' archives, such as an encoded letter which contains the book's title. It all has the desired effect: in their own ways, and from their own perspectives, the Loonys are an institution, not just some random group of characters.

Shaw uses another comics-specific device: Peter looks like an anthropomorphic frog. At times this bit of characterization, combined with Peter's general malaise, can get a little too precious; but when Shaw shifts gears unexpectedly, it's startling, and it adds another layer to the character.

Ultimately, the success of Bottomless Belly Button comes from Shaw's ability to make the Loonys three-dimensional. His characters aren't perfect, or perfectly formed; but none of their arcs is entirely predictable (not even Peter's, which is probably the most by-the-numbers). Shaw's unique style gives the reader just enough information to suggest the rest, and that helps bring the characters alive.

I read BBB as its author directed, taking breaks between each of its three parts over the course of a couple of days. That was a few weeks ago, and it has stayed with me. There's a lot of symbolism and minutiae to absorb in this work, so I suspect it will reward multiple readings. Maybe I'll take it with me on our next trip to the beach.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Olivia Vs. Super-Babies

Now that I have finished the Essential Defenders books, I've moved on to a different set of black-and-white reprints for Olivia's story time. I'll get back to the Marvel stuff eventually, but for now we've been reading Showcase Presents Legion Of Super-Heroes Vol. 2 ... and guess which story came up to bat last night?

That's right, "The Menace Of The Sinister Super-Babies!" from Adventure Comics #338 (November 1965). This particular story was a revelation to me, and not just because of how the dialogue sounded when read aloud. If you're unfamiliar with it (as I was), basically the plot involves the Time Trapper's attempt to destroy the Legionnaires by, appropriately enough, de-aging them from teenagers to infants and eventually into the "protoplasmic slime" from which all life comes. Because the point of the story is to show the Legionnaires as infants, though, there must be complications.

See, the Time Trapper is an omnipotent villain who lives in a post-apocalyptic dinosaur-shaped building on a devastated planet at the end of time. His "Iron Curtain of time" prevents the Legionnaires (who live in the 30th Century*) from attacking him directly. His plan, however, involves sending a henchwoman (Glorith) back to the 30th C. with a device which, when touched by anyone not properly protected, will de-age them ultimately to the aforementioned primordial goo. Thus, Glorith tricks the Legionnaires into touching the device -- but unfortunately for her, they are only de-aged to infancy, thanks to the interfering spray from a nearby "Fountain of 1,000 Chemicals." I failed to mention that Glorith and the Legion are at a theme park, where the fountain is one of the attractions, next to the merry-go-round.

Anyway, hilarity ensues, and the Time Trapper (who eventually enters the story as a sinister "Uncle," tricking the Legion Babies into stealing for him) ends up so annoyed with his "Infant-ry" (the story uses that term repeatedly) that he gives the few unaffected Legionnaires the cure for their colleagues' condition, in exchange for them replacing the spaceship the super-babies trashed.

This story was written by Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator, and drawn by regular Legion artist John Forte; but it reads like the result of a three-day ether binge. Still, because it introduced the character of Glorith, who later became one of the main Legion villains 'round about the time I started reading the title regularly (the "TMK"/Five Years Later era), I suppose it has become an important milepost in Legion history.

An aside: I keep forgetting how far into the 1960s these stories were advancing. It's easier for me to see the march of time reflected in more serialized books, namely the Marvel titles. Therefore, by way of unfair comparison, the November '65 issue of Fantastic Four had them battling the Inhumans and Dragon Man.

For a more informed view of this story, I recommend H's recap here (scroll down). You can read all of "Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies" here.

By the way, I haven't been doing distinct voices for the Legion stories like I was for the Defenders issues. I tried to do a deep, booming Time Trapper, but this story's dialogue suggested more of a cranky Uncle Leo. Besides, these characters speak pretty much in paragraphs (that is, when they're not laughing at someone), so it's hard to concentrate on a voice while getting all the words out.

Anyway, we'll stick with the Legion for a while, but probably back to '70s Marvel before too long.

* [I know most of you know this, so it's primarily for my family members who aren't so into the superheroes.]
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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Another quick Green Lantern question

Everyone remember the Justice League bookshelf?

Wouldn't 'cha know, the Green Lantern figure has suffered a career-ending knee injury, and I'll be needing a new one.

However, thanks to the good folks at Mattel, I now have a choice. Do I replace the "Hard Traveling" Hal, thereby keeping that set of Hal/Ollie/Dinah intact; or do I go for the more articulated Mattel version? (If it makes a difference, I am planning to get a Mattel Aquaman as well at some point.) I don't think availability is an issue, since I got both Ollie and Dinah off teh Ebay.


[EDIT] P.S. If you have any preference for a particular John Stewart figure, I'd love to hear it. (The Guy and Kyle figures may have to wait until a future League expansion.)
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Friday, October 03, 2008

Now I want a John Stewart movie too

Inspired by Brainfreeze, just a quick question before a busy weekend (and no time for Friday Night Fights, darn it)....

Wouldn't the first Green Lantern movie be more interesting if it focused on John Stewart?

I mean, I love Hal, but his story arc is pretty much a straight line. The basic Green Lantern origin-story plot is "you are in over your head." Here is a magic ring; now go fight aliens and fix problems.

With Hal, there's no real story arc. Any complications (father issues! drunk driving!) seem artificial, because come on, he's a test pilot. He's got the right stuff already, so why are we wading through these subplots to see it?

Speaking broadly, Guy and Kyle exist primarily in relation to Hal. Guy is the star of the Green Lantern movie that Adam Sandler's production company would make (har har, I'll use the ring for hookers and blow!); and Kyle is the star of Disney's (I am sensitive and I believe in myself!). Those are gross oversimplifications, to be sure, but I'm thinking two-minute trailers here -- not a lot of room for nuance.

John, though ... now there's a movie-movie. Spend the first ten minutes on slice-of-life stuff for a socially-conscious architect. However, drop into the background a couple of news items: a polarizing politician's visit, and Green Lantern saving a busload of school kids in Baltimore. The plot begins in earnest when Hal shows up to make John his deputy (and I did say make, because Hal and probably a big holographic Guardian head make it clear that John has no choice).

So yeah, it's essentially an adaptation and expansion of John's origin from the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams Green Lantern #87, but really, isn't that the kernel of a good movie all by itself? Here is Hal, representing (as he did originally) the establishment, having to train a new Lantern who he worries may not have the right attitude for the job; and here is John, wondering what in fact this new role means to his long-held beliefs. Sure, there are racial and political overtones, but it would have been a heck of an introduction to John, Hal, and the Green Lantern Corps.

Okay, gotta go. Back before too long.
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