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ANN TENNA

Ann Tenna: A Novel
Graphic Novel by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
240 7x9-inch pages, color
2015 Knopf hardcover
$30

In Marchetto's second aventure into the graphic novel genre (her first in 2006, Cancer Vixen, a memoir of her 11-month victorious battle with breast cancer, reviewed in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves Archives, Opus 205), Ann Tenna is a fashionable New York gossip columnist whose power has seduced her away from “her true self,” as the dust jacket blurb tells us, continuing: “It takes a near-fatal freak [car] accident on her birthday — April Fool’s Day — and an intervention from her cosmic double in a realm beyond our own to make Ann realize the full cost of the humanity she has lost [and to enable her recovery].

“Told with laugh-out loud humor, spot-on-dialogue (including via cameo appearances from Coco Chanel, Gianni Versace and Jimi Henrix), [the book] is a timely, necessary [satiric] tale for our overly ‘media-cated’ times.”

The New York celebrity-oriented story is not the sort of tale that interests me—too brimming with “with-in” witicisms — and I don’t pretend to have actually read it (see Book Marquee rationale above), but I’ve thumbed through it enough to appreciate what Marchetto has accomplished here by exploiting the capacities of the medium.

Billed as a New Yorker cartoonist (whose cartoons appear occasionally in the magazine, the most fashionable and high-fallutin’ cartoon venue in the country), Marchetto abandons the conventions of her single-panel cartoons for that publication in this novel. Herein, she produces some of the wildest visual variations on comic-strip/comic-book storytelling, breaking out of page layout grids and using a parade of symbols to achieve her objective—in which Ann Tenna recovers her humanity at last (sigh).

AnnTenna1

 

AnnTenna2

 

In short, this volume could well serve as an inspiring example of one of the many ways the graphic novel form can be deployed to tell stories that other narrative modes (the prose novel the epic poem) cannot achieve. And Marchetto’s experimental manner gives her story a pictorial excitement that enhances its satirical comedy.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

LOVELACE AND BABBAGE

 

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
Graphic Novel by Sydney Padua
318 7x10-inch pages, b/w
2015 Pantheon hardcover
$28.95

 

Lovelace and Babbage coverIf you do as Padua did and look up Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage on Wikipedia, you’ll find they were actual people, citizens of Victorian England, so this bulky, heavily footnoted and annotated tome might be a biography or history. Except it isn’t. Exactly. In Wikipedia, Padua writes in her Preface, she found “the strange tale of how, in the 1830s, an eccentric genius [and polymath] named Charles Babbage only just failed to invent the computer, and how the [only legitimate] daughter of [George Gordon] Lord Byron wrote imaginary programs for this imaginary computer.”

The Wikipedia entries elaborate a little: “Considered by some to be a ‘father of the computer,’ Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs. ... In 1991, a perfectly functioning difference engine was constructed from Babbage's original plans. Built to tolerances achievable in the 19th century, the success of the finished engine indicated that Babbage's machine would have worked.”

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron), worked with Babbage and made extensive notes on his machine, notes that include “what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer.”

Padua, an animator and visual effects artist, had no intention, she says, of drawing a Lovelace and Babbage comic. “For one thing, I wasn’t a comic artist. For another, I didn’t know anything about Victorian history, science, or mathematics.” But, she goes on, she missed the kind of drawing she did before becoming an animator. “I started doodling at odd hours, and I found out that drawing a webcomic was an excellent way to avoid working on other seemingly more serious things.”

She also discovered research. And she fell in love. As a result, “hundreds of pages later,” Padua realized that the comic she insisted she was not drawing she was, in fact, drawing—“an imaginary comic about an imaginary computer.”

The Thrilling Adventures may be the oddest graphic novel you’ll see. The narrative is underpinned with copious footnotes and explanatory background essays that interrupt the story, sometimes for pages, with tales about ancillary personalities that are themselves footnoted. (In one such flight, Padua notes that novelist Charles Dickens knew Babbage and Lovelace, and it is “generally agreed” that a character in Little Dorrit, Mr. Doyce—the inventor of a mysterious mechanism — is based “if not on Babbage, at least on Babbage’s situation with government grants.”)

Why all the footnoting if Padua’s tale is largely imaginary? Because it isn’t all imaginary. She begins, episode after episode, with a fragment of actual biography or history. And then she elaborates on it, letting her imagination run rampant. A novel approach.

Most refreshing, however, is Padua’s deployment of the resources of the medium. The graphic novel part of this book consists of visual-verbal narratives of incidents that could have constituted “the thrilling adventures” of Lovelace and Babbage. This is decidedly not a book of captions with decorative pictures, the usual specimen produced by biographers and historians who resort to artist friends to “illustrate” their texts, producing something that looks, at first glance, like a graphic novel but, upon closer inspection, is a prose narrative with elaborate marginalia. Padua, in merciful defiance of this obscene trend, makes her pictures tell much of the story (as much of it as is not in footnotes). Here, for example, are several pages that demonstrate her happy method.

LoveBabbage1

 

LoveBabbage2

The book, in short, is a delightful charmer, a joyous, exuberant boundary-breaking movement-packed perfectly wondrous send-up of scholarly tomes — without neglecting either scholarship or comedy— an education and an entertainment of the most engaging kind, a prank, a joke, and an exemplar of what may be done with the comics medium.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WILL EISNER: CHAMPION OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Will Eisner: Champion of the Graphic Novel
By Paul Levitz
226 10½ x11-inch landscape pages,
b/w and color
hardcover
$40
Abrams ComicArts 2015

Will Eisner, Champion of the Graphic Novel coverA gorgeous scrapbook of Eisner art with a ringing title that justifies the gorgeousness, this volume’s spacious pages permit reproduction from original art at a size that gives ample display to Eisner’s artistry. And there’s plenty of reproduction from original art, particularly from the latter third of Eisner’s career, his graphic novel period, plus a few expert watercolor paintings, notably on the end papers. Lots of photographs, too.

Among the visual rarities are samples of Eisner’s work as a teenager (just a few), reprints of several Spirit stories that have not been seen since their initial publication (some, in undergrounds), preliminary pencil sketches, and the rough pencil layout Jules Fieffer did for a Spirit story (“Outer Space”) when he was working as Eisner’s assistant.

The book’s text, by a former president of DC Comics, is insightfully informed by Levitz’s position in the industry. From his perch at DC over the last 30 years, Levitz watched the emergence of the graphic novel form as it was happening, and his observations offer the unique perspective of a publisher who was keenly following developments in the industry.

Levitz’s text provides more than a mere recitation of biographical and bibliographic facts: it is discursive and analytical and, often, speculative about what Eisner may have been thinking or intending. Did the death of his daughter in 1970 distort his memory about when he first attended Phil Sueling’s New York comic convention? Levitz spends several paragraphs pondering this question, finally deciding “yes — Eisner got the dates wrong.”

Eisner’s career in comics falls neatly into three periods. The first is the comic book period (1936-1952) wherein Eisner produced The Spirit. The second phase lasted from 1950 until 1978, after which, in the third and final period of his career, Eisner was dedicated to producing and promoting the graphic novel.

The second phase is the one usually neglected by Eisner enthusiasts who dote on The Spirit and the graphic novel. During the 28 or so years of this period, Eisner produced instructional, or educational, comics. (As it happens, this phase of Eisner’s career and his graphic novel phase are covered in two Hindsight reports in December 2005, both available at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com.)

Will Eisner photo
Despite the numerous insights Levitz offers throughout the volume, he can’t avoid a misstep now and again. He says the National Cartoonists Society didn’t allow comic book cartoonists as members, but Joe Shuster and Joe Musial, both in comic books, were among the charter members. Eisner, however, was not.

And Levitz, like so many who chronicle the life of Mad, says publisher William Gaines switched from comic book format to magazine format in order to evade the censorial Comic Code Authority. Not so. The switch was made in order to keep Harvey Kurtzman interested and producing the publication: Kurtzman had ambitions for satire that the comic book format wouldn’t showcase, but a magazine would. Hence, the change — and it came months before the CCA was created.

These are trifling matters. And even if there are more of them (see the Usual Place, Rants & Raves, Opus 347, for a longer, more detailed review), they are still inconsequential in the context of the entire book, which Levitz has carefully erected as much-deserved monument to Eisner’s signal achievement. Levitz ends the book with Eisner attending comic conventions and basking in his fame as a pace-setting comics creator, particularly of the graphic novel — which Eisner correctly saw as validation of his lifelong ambition for the literary status of the medium.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WOMANTHOLOGY HEROIC: PART TWO (SORT OF)

Ethel Hays was among the women cartoonists mentioned in Womanthology Heroic, the book reviewed in the previous post. And there’s more to say about Hays. When she became too busy as the mother of two, she gave up doing Flapper Fanny (then appearing in about 500 newspapers, Colleen Doran tells us), and the feature was taken up by Gladys Parker, another woman cartoonist of newspaper comics who hasn’t received much attention. As a young girl, Parker wanted to become a dancer, but when at 14 she developed osteomyelitis, a painful and potentially crippling bone disease, she took up sketching and it evolved into cartooning.

After Flapper Fanny, she created her own Mopsy, a marvelously leggy pretty girl character who looked a lot like Parker and whose name was inspired by Rube Goldberg, who, at a party, told Parker that her hair — which she carefully combed and then just as carefully roughed up — looked “like a mop.”

Parker was married to a sports cartoonist, Stookie Allen, whom she met in 1928, soon after they both arrived in Manhattan to work on staff at United Features. (All of which — and more about each of them — was detailed in Editor & Publisher on October 16, 1948; I just happened to run into it while browsing for something else.)

I have a scrapbook of Hays’ cartoons that some young person used as a coloring book, but I can’t, at the moment, find it. So, no sample Hayses. But here, to make up for it, a couple Parkers.

GladysParker

 

And now, having wandered off the reservation again, I cease.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WOMANTHOLOGY HEROIC: PART ONE

Womanthology Heroic: Part One
Created By Over 150 Women
334 9x12-inch pages, color
2011
IDW hardcover
$50

Womanthology coverThe remarkable thing about this book is that it even exists — not because it features work by women cartoonists, but because the whole daunting task of assembling and producing the volume took less than six months. Once IDW expressed interest in the idea first proposed by comic book artist Renae De Liz in mid-May 2011, a Kickstarter project was launched, raising more than enough funding for publishing the book. Then — and here’s the miracle — more than 150 creators were given only two months to get their work in on deadline. Creative people don’t generally thrive on deadlines. But this bunch apparently did: they all hit the deadline.

The result is a gorgeous volume of high quality color reproduction and ingenious design. It is not only a celebration of women cartoonists, writers, colorists, and letterers: it is also a sales brochure, a pitch, with every byline consisting of an abbreviated, cryptic resume. And many pages offer “pro tips” for beginners — f’instance: “When meeting a possible employer for an interview at a convention, dress appropriately. Do not dress in cos-play. Do not wear a t-shirt advertising a rival company. Dress casually but smartly.”

The stories vary in length from one-page pin-ups to two-, four-, even six- or eight-pages. Mostly, the characters are women; some are kids. Some stories revolve around teenage angst. Most are cautionary tales of some sort—moralizing or philosophizing about life, not necessarily life as a woman but usually. None are obviously bitter about being a woman in a male-dominated culture.

Some are slices of life — like the one about a young girl who can’t sleep because her tummy aches at night when she goes to bed. Her mother takes her to a doctor who decides the kid is schizophrenic, and the mother yanks the kid out of the doctor’s clutches and they go home. End of story.

 

Womanthology

The book concludes with a section on “how to create comics” — including a mercifully short “how to draw hands” lesson (“Don’t forget to draw the ulna!” as if any reasonably observant artist would), how to build a sketch into final art, and how to ink — eight interviews of current creators, and biographies and sample art from “Women of the Past” — Tarpe Mills, Nell Brinkley, Rose O’Neill, and Ethel Hays, whose gorgeously graceful work (“peerless draftsmanship and elegant linework with a penchant for pretty girls”) in the 1920s has never received adequate attention.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: ROUGH RIDERS

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT RIDING ROUGH AGAIN

The first issue of Aftershock’s Rough Riders sets up the series’ premise right away. On the eve of the Spanish American War, New York police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, dressed as some sort of trouble-shooter, saves some women from fiery death as a dirigible explodes. TR is an action hero! Later, TR is recruited by four wealthy men (Morgan, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller) to make a secret expedition to Cuba in advance of America’s invasion of that country. TR says he needs to recruit a team to help him — “a phenomenal” team “with special skills.”

From the cover of this issue, we know that the team will consist of TR, prize-fighter Jack Johnson, inventor Thomas Edison, escape artist Harry Houdini, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley. The rest of the first issue is the complete episode wherein TR recruits Johnson, part of which you can see near the corner of your eye.

RoughRiders

In succeeding issues, we’ll doubtless witness the recruiting of the rest of TR’s ensemble of adventurers.

It’s a promising concept from writer Adam Glass — why has nobody thought of Teddy Roosevelt as the hero of a comic book before? — and artist Patrick Olliffe is more than competent, a first-class storyteller. I wish his linework was a little less tightly controlled — his characters look a little stiff even when in motion — but that’s a matter of personal taste, not an objective critical judgment.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: MOCKINGBIRD

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

A MYSTERY BREWING IN MOCKINGBIRD

Mockingbird #1 coverBarbara Morse, aka Mockingbird, is entirely too beautiful. And all the other women in the first issue of this eponymous 5-issue run are likewise. They all look entirely too much alike — except for color and styling of hair. That’s artist Kate Niemczyk’s fault, and it’s not a bad one: we all like to look at beautiful women (like those in the preceding visual aid posted with our review of the new Black Widow). Her drawing style is clean and uncluttered; bold lines where necessary, contrasting nicely with finer lines. Background details ruled rather than free-handed. But it’s all so cleanly done that this shortcoming is scarcely noticeable.

Through this entire issue, Mockingbird returns repeatedly to the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical facility to be checked for symptoms of unanticipated side-effects due to ingesting a couple of experimental drugs. Writer Chelsea Cain gives the character plenty of sarcastic witty remarks.

“You guys have totally ruined the thrill of peeing in a cup for me,” she says. And then: “I’ll get all the urine back at some point?”

Not much else happens. On occasion, she manifests symptoms that the check-ups are supposed to discover, but she doesn’t admit to them. Only one action sequence: she breaks down a door. In what might be regarded as the completed episode, she manages to move a ping-pong ball with her mind. Still, Mockingbird shows promise.

Apart from Niemczyk’s beautiful pictures, there’s this prediction from Cain: “Each of the next three issues will fill in what happened between appointments and then the fifth issue will pick up where this one leaves off. ... My goal is that you will read this issue, read the next four, and then come back and read this one again, and it will be a completely different experience. It’s like two for one.”

Sounds good to me. I’ll be back.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: BLACK WIDOW

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

SUPER HEROINE IN HIGHLY VISUAL ACTION

Black Widow's backThe new Black Widow is a visual and visceral treat. The first issue is all action, constant movement — and mostly, without dialogue or captions. Just the Black Widow in motion. On the first page, we see her walking through an office as a public address system announces: “Effectively immediately, Agent Natasha Romanoff, code-name Black Widow, is to be considered an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D. She is to be stopped at any cost.”

She breaks into a run, and thereafter, we see Black Widow in continual combat with her would-be captors, all agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as she fights her way to freedom, leaping free of the agency’s giant hovercraft and falling to Earth through a series of lucky landings. And why is she an enemy? Because, we learn later, she stole some top secret data. What and for what reason, we don’t know yet. But with visual excitement like this in store, we’ll come back next issue to find out.

Artist Chris Samnee is credited with Mark Waid as half the writing team — and with good reason: the “writing” in this issue is mostly Samnee depicting the escape of Natasha. His bold linear style is on full display, clearly showing every step of her progress. And he had to invent and choreograph every step. His imagining and visualizing of physical action is a marvel to watch. Below are the second and third pages of this issue. There is no compete episode nestled in this book: it’s all a complete episode, from beginning on the first page to ending, victorious, on the last page.

 

BlackWidMock

This is great superhero comics, kimo sabe. Those skin-tight costumes are meant to make movement easy, and here we have non-stop movement.

In No.1's letter page, Waid explains how he and Samnee work together: they co-plot the the book “with Chris handling the way the story is told and me adding final dialogue.”

In No.2, there’s a little more verbiage — speeches by characters, no captions. But the action continues pretty steadily. And the mystery persists.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: AMERICAN MONSTER

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

MONSTROUS AMERICA?

American Monster coverThe first issue of American Monster begins with the kidnapping of Marjorie and Gerald, man and wife, and it ends with their perverse murder. They’re tied to chairs facing each other, each training a pistol on the other, and their arms are taped together so they can’t change the aim. Their kidnapper tells them he’s going to do a count down, “an’ if one of you ain’t dead at blast-off, Imma shoot you both.” At the count of nine, Gerald pulls the trigger and kills his wife. Then the kidnapper shoots and kills him. The kidnapper prefaces his action by complaining that Gerald and Marjorie have conned him out of a large sum of money, so his murdering them is seemingly an act of justice.

This bizarrely heartless scenario is the invention of writer Brian Azzarello, who has concocted the whole notion of the book. And it is one of two completed episodes.

In the other, a huge scarred and burned-red man, a traveler, comes into a bar, looking for a mechanic to fix his car. It’s late in the evening so no mechanic is around. On his way to a motel, Big Red stops at a diner to eat, and the man at the other end of the counter wants to buy his dinner as gesture of thanks to a veteran, which, judging from his scarred appearance, Big Red probably is. But he belligerently refuses the generous offer, saying he’ll buy his own and putting a wad of bills on the counter on top of a newspaper headlined “Bank Heist.” In the distance, his car blows up.

The kidnapper/murder episode shows us a heartless thug at work; the Big Red episode shows us a rude thug who at least begins by asking the right questions about a mechanic’s availability and, subsequently, where he can eat and sleep overnight. Despite his ugliness, he seems otherwise ordinary.

In a third episode, we see several young people gathered around a seesaw, and the girl, Snow, on one end of the seesaw bares her breasts on command several times, apparently accepting payment each time from the man on the other end of the seesaw. The group is having a completely irrelevant conversation about whether the girl is a vegetarian.

The second issue doesn’t unravel much of this tangle. The central incident, which is not exactly resolved, is the discovery of a dead dog by the sheriff and his deputy. The deputy goes to report the death to the dog’s owner, who turns out to be the kidnapper of the first issue. The deputy also visits Big Red to find out why his car exploded. We see that both the kidnapper and Big Red have the same brand on their backs, double S’s like the insignia for the Nazi Schutzstaffel (“protective squadron”).

At the end of the issue, the deputy goes home to attend to his invalid mother, who suffers, perhaps, from Alzheimers, and has soiled herself.

In other words, after two issues, we still don’t know what’s going on. But Azzarello is skilled at keeping us interested regardless. And he is ably assisted in this title by an artist who is listed as Juan Doe; since that’s Spanish for John Doe, I assume it’s not the artist’s real name.

But he is expert at dousing his pictures in black and dim shadows, and the dim lighting within the panels is augmented by solid black throughout where typically white margins separate the panels. He also occasionally uses white silhouettes to good effect as visual accents.

Monster1

 

Monster2

I’ll come back for a third visit just to see more Juan Doe.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FIRST ISSUE: POWER MAN AND IRON FIST

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

MORE ADVANCE NOTICE FOR A MOVIE

Power Man and Iron Fist coverPower Man and Iron Fist are back in funnybooks because there’s a movie on the horizon. (Right: a Netflix flick; see below.) Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist) wants to revive their team-up but Luke Cage (Power Man) doesn’t. That’s the on-going joke, and it lasts for both of the two issues out so far. The adventure gets underway when Jennie Royce, former office manage for Heroes for Hire, gets out of prison and wants them to retrieve her grandmother’s necklace, which was taken from her by Lonnie Lincoln (aka Tombstone, boss of organized crime north of 110th Street), who (she says) mistook the necklace for some of the late Eugene Mason’s stash which Lonnie took because Eugene owed him money.

But Jennie is lying. The necklace is a mysterious and powerful trinket (containing the supersoul stone) that Jennie gives to Mariah Dillard (aka Black Mariah), who plans to use the necklace to take over Lonnie’s operation. By the second issue, Lonnie is sending his goons after Iron Fist and Power Man to recover the necklace. And fisticuffs ensue. (Again. They were required in the first issue to extract the necklace from Lonnie.)

Because the title characters are old timers in the Marvel stable, we scarcely need a first issue that acquaints us with them — even though under the new rubric, neither Power Man nor Iron Fist are quite the same serious personages they once were. The running joke about teaming up or not defines their personalities: Luke resists Danny’s insistence, and Danny tries to be irresistible, joking and grinning all the way.

David Walker is telling the tale here, but it’s Sanford Greene’s drawing that gives the title panache. His linework is scratchy, which lends the visuals a happy loose feel. And in rendering Luke Cage, he produces a massive figure, a colossus of a man, massive muscles on the cusp of overweightedness. That’s a satisfying visual appeal, and the scratchiness enhances it all.

The title is a step away from Deadpool nonsense, but I can’t help feeling that the jokey dialogue between Luke and Danny is an attempt to mimic the fun time atmosphere of those titles.

ABOUT THE IRON FIST MOVIE: It’s a Netflix series with “Game of Thrones” actor Finn Jones in the title role. Entertainment Weekly reports that he is training for the role, his daily routine “consists of hours of martial-arts practice (kung fu and wushu mixed with a bit of tai chi) followed by lifting weights (“to bulk me up”) and meditation and Buddhist philosophy studies. Says Jones: “I’ve always dreamed of a role that bridged spiritual discipline and badass superhero. There’s a contradiction in those elements that’s going to be very fun to play.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

A WATERSHED YEAR FOR DIVERSITY?

War Machine

"Superheroes have stood astride the American pop-culture landscape for eight decades,” said Michael Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs, “but racial diversity has largely been left in the margins. So while we have had black superheroes for much of that time now, in the movie adaptations their roles have often been secondary. That’s why 2016 feels like a watershed year.

“May’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is the first mainstream movie to co-star three black superheroes: War Machine (played by Don Cheadle), the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). That same month, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ will spotlight Storm (Alexandra Shipp); and in August, DC Comics’ ‘Suicide Squad’ will be led by Viola Davis and Will Smith. The quintessentially American art form that is superhero comics is embracing fictive worlds that look like America itself. And in 2016, black capes matter,” Cavna concludes.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SUPERHERO MOVIES CORRUPT THE COMICS

EW April 2016 coverWhy the resurrection of all these second- and third-tier characters? Easy: movies. Riding the surge of Hollywood’s and the public’s apparent fascination with movies about comic book superheroes, Marvel and DC need more superheroes than their rosters of first tier characters provide. How many more Batman movies can be manufactured out of Bruce Wayne’s poignant history as the haunted surviving witness of his parents’ death by murder, which scarred him psychologically. You can do only a few Avengers movies before invention flags and public interest fades. So, you need more characters.

Rather than invent some new ones — who would have no built-in fan base — it’s cannier for eventual marketing to excavate the past for heroes no longer exactly on everyone’s mind, but, at least however vaguely remembered, more familiar than new strangers. Admittedly, neither Black Panther nor Moon Knight are relics of the distant past (like, say, the Shield?), so they have some sort of fan base out there — enough that they can be recruited to join other, more visible characters, in a new movie. Or, even, soloing like Doctor Strange. But bringing them back first via comic books is a wannabe cunning gesture at creating a fresh crop of fans in preparation for the debut of a movie appearance.

Superheroes are on the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s “Summer Movie Preview” issue April 22/29, demonstrating, once again, the rise of skintights from four-color pulp to celluloid status: thus, movies have validated the cultural worth of superheroes. If you’re in the movies, you have arrived, culturally speaking.

In the last 25 years, 138 movies have been made of comic book heroes, more — at the rate of several a year — in recent years. Most of the earliest ones simply perpetuated the existing comic book adventurer mythos. But lately, movies of comic book superheroes are corrupting their four-color source. Cultural success — moving out of the subculture of funnybooks onto the big screen — is changing funnybooks and not necessarily for the better.

In the olden days, movie superheroes had to look like their comic book selves. That’s changed. Comic book characters now must look like their movie versions, so their appearance—even their physiognomy — changes as different actors perform the roles. And the changes don’t end there. In the movies, Lois Lane now knows Clark Kent is Superman. That’s a profound alteration of the Superman myth; and now the comic book version must conform.

Costumes change, too. And this is where the greatest corruption occurs. Back at the dawn of time, the movie version of a superhero wore tights just like the funnybook version. But that was the weakest link in the connecting chain: the success of the celluloid incarnation depended entirely on the physique of the actor playing the part: if he didn’t have a muscular body, his interpretation was lame. (And if he had the requisite body, his performance was likelyk to be lame.) Hollywood’s solution to this dilemma was to re-design the costume to mask the physical shortcomings of the actors.

Superman in the movies wears tights that look like they’re made of a kind of chain-mail; Batman wears some sort of body armor; Captain America is wrapped in the straps of a harness; ditto Wonder Woman.

SuperCostumes

And now the artists who render these superheroes in comic books must imitate the movie costume. Superheroes wearing tights were relatively easy to draw: simple figure-drawing did the job. Nowadays, superheroes are harder to draw because their costumes are complicated.

Figure-drawing is no longer good enough in a medium that was built entirely on figure-drawing. Sigh.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com