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TURTLE NEWS

In the summer “double issue” of Entertainment Weekly, an article about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (and, incidentally, Andrew Farago’s book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, that hit the bookstores June 24) publishes pictures of the turtles showing how through their 30-year history they evolved visually, but fails to mention the names of the characters’ creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

TeenageTurtles

This is the issue of the magazine with a cover featuring the bikini-clad Jessica Alba, touting the August debut of “Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” another in the parade of comic-book-based flicks flooding the nation’s theaters every summer. EW staged a shoot of Alba in her “figment of a swim suit” by way of previewing her reprise of the role of Nancy Callahan in the film. Says Alba: “Sex is absolutely what helps sell this movie, which is fine with me.”

Alba

But Alba, the lead-in paragraph assures us, is about more than sex: “Off camera, she’s the head of a $50 million brand. A brain for business, a bod for sin — now, that’s a dame we’d kill for.”

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

A QUEST TO FIND ANNIE

Dick Tracy is traipsing through the longest continuity that any strip has foisted off on us in several decades (except 9 Chickweed Lane, which a year or so ago ran a story for nearly a year; expertly done, too). Writer Dick Tracy seeking AnnieMike Curtis and cartoonist Joe Staton started the story on June 7, and it will last through September.

The special dispensation for length in this age of 4-week continuities is doubtless because in this story, Tracy goes looking for Annie Warbucks, the famed heroine of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, a strip that ended in June 2010 (albeit not very definitively: she was missing in Guatemala in the last strip, with a caption that was open-ended enough to permit the orphan redhead to return, should the stars be reconfigured. She’s showed up in Tracy, but, as yet, without any hint that her own strip might be revived.)

The continuity features several other LOA fugitives — Daddy Warbucks, the Asp, Punjab, even the mysterious Am (rumored, in some fanatic parts, to be Gray’s version of the Almighty Himself). And Staton alters his drawing style to mimic Gray’s. Meanwhile, Curtis is hoping this cross-over will inspire another — namely, a meeting between Tracy and Batman. “Having America’s two greatest crime fighters meet each other would be fun,” he told George Gene Gustines at the nytimes.com, “ — in fact, we have a plot if it happens.” We can hope.

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

NEWSPAPER FUNNIES STILL RANK HIGH

For the record: Bill Watterson’s surrepititious return to the funnies pages of the nation’s newspapers by invading the stick-figure precincts of Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine the first week of June created an unprecedented uproar. A clamour among millions, it quickly became that most desirable of occurrences in the entertainment world: it was an “event,” saith Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs.com.

Pearls Before Swing 6-4-14Pastis, Watterson’s dupe in the enterprise, was aghast. “It’s just massive,” Pastis told Cavna on Saturday, June 7, the last day of the Watterson Week, “—the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I mean, I knew there would be a big reaction but didn’t know it would be this big.”

“As of Saturday morning, Pastis had set the digital world ablaze,” Cavna wrote: “His blog account of how the collaboration came into being was the No.1 blogpost worldwide on WordPress, buoying him to the morning’s top blog overall. Update: Pastis tells me his personal blog’s Watterson post has been viewed more than 3-million times.”

And his syndicate’s website, GoComics.com, “was barely holding up beneath the sudden flood of visitors. (Universal Uclick is the syndicate for both Pearls and Calvin and Hobbes.) Update: On Saturday, June 7, the GoComics site received 6.1-million page views, syndicate chief John Glynn told ComicRiffs — a spike of 4-million more than the previous Saturday.”

Rocking the entertainment world just a month after the New York Post dropped its entire comics section (admittedly, just a measly seven comic strips) — creating what some of us saw (and still see) as an unhappy harbinger for the rest of the daily newspaper fiefdom (see Opus 326 of Rants & Raves at the Usual Place) — Watterson Week was, we trust, welcomed throughout the syndicate business as a vivid — astonishing, stupendous — demonstration of the enduring appeal of newspaper comic strips. Every syndicate salesman on the planet ought to be out there, visiting feature editors and waving the Internet statistics in their faces.

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

BELIEVE IT OR DON'T

Ripley, A Curious Man coverWhen Robert L. Ripley died in 1949, believe it or not, his long-time friend Arthur “Bugs” Baer (sometime cartoonist, all-time raconteur and wit around town), who had been with Ripley when he’d created the first Believe It Or Not, wrote about his friend:

“He had the pride of craftsmanship in his drawings and the authority of knowledge in his statements. Nobody ever proved him wrong. If Ripley told me I had two heads, I would go out and buy two hats. And tip them both to the greatest cartoonist in the history of American journalism.”                                                        
This quotation appears in the latest biography of Ripley, A Curious Man (426 6x9-inch pages; some photos, mostly text, Crown, $26) by Neal Thompson, a lively book detailing many of Ripley’s exploits as he traveled the world looking for “oddities.” Ripley kept a diary or journal of these forays, so Thompson has the benefit of an excellent source. Beginning as a sports cartoonist, Ripley probably had one of the greatest circulations in the history of cartooning; his cartoon appeared in hundreds of newspapers world-wide. “The greatest cartoonist in the history of American journalism,” saith Baer.

And yet the book prints not a single cartoon. Not one.

           

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

FIRST ISSUE: VEIL

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.

 

Veil coverGreg Rucka tells us at the end of the first issue of Veil that the character has been hovering around in his so-called mind for twenty years, “a concept more than an identity, an idea in search of a story rather than a character waiting for her story to be told.” And now, ably aided by Toni Fejzula, Rucka starts telling the story.

Throughout the book, Veil seems deranged, inarticulate and vague about her surroundings — as if suffering from amnesia or, perhaps, just awakening from a bad dream. She’s also naked. She leaves a subway platform where we first see her, asleep and naked, and, emerging from the underground, she immediately attracts the attention of some rowdies who announce their intention of “taking care” of her. Suddenly, another man steps up, shoves the head rowdy aside, and gives the girl a jacket to cover her nakedness.

He takes her to his apartment and finds her some clothes. Just as he learns her name, the rowdies show up again, armed and dangerous. Under some compulsion that seems connected to Veil and her vacuous utterances, the head rowdy starts shooting people, himself included. Soon, Veil and her rescuer, Dante, are the only ones alive, and they leave with her asking, “Who am I?”

Rucka gives us two complete episodes: Dante’s rescue of Veil from the presumably unwanted attentions of the rowdies who first see her; and the sequence in the apartment which continues to display Dante’s caring attentiveness — even after the wholesale slaughter of the intruders by the head intruder. Both episodes show us the kind of person Dante is — a good man, a caring man. In both, Veil continues to be vague, as though hypnotized or in a dream or simply mentally deficient.

Veil

Veil is mysterious beyond comprehension, but the circumstances surrounding her adventures in this first issue are not incomprehensible. We know enough about her and about Dante to want to know more, which is enough for a first issue.

Fejzula’s art is part of the attraction. His pictures brim with chips and swatches of hues of the colors, sculpting and modeling forms. Lines exist merely to outline forms, their realism is achieved through Fejzula’s distinctive deployment of color. I’ll be back if only to see more of his work.

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

FIRST ISSUE: THE WHITE SUITS

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.

White-Suits-CoverThe White Suits, we are told on the inside front cover of No.1, are “mysterious killers dressed in white who savaged the Cold War Soviet underground — then disappeared. ... And now they’ve resurfaced.” That’s about all we know about the White Suits. And we don’t learn it from the pictorial portion of the book.

Similarly, we also know that an FBI agent, Sarah Anderson, is on the trail of the Suits because she believes they can tell her how and why her father, a State Department official, vanished at the same time as the Suits did. The rest of this inaugural issue is jammed with murder and mayhem rendered in one of the most spectacularly energetic drawing styles I’ve seen in comics. Toby Cypress deploys an unwavering line to depict characters in a sometimes abbreviated visual shorthand — in black and white accented in red, the only color in the book. Alas, the pictures are sometimes confused however attractive they are, and the verbal content doesn’t help much.

The pictures are often, but not always, accompanied by a voice-over, utterances of a person who seems in constant pain and as perplexed as the visuals. We don’t meet Sarah by name until the end of the book, when she is talking to a man she’s tied to a chair, telling him that he is going to help her take the Suits down. He, we are told in the second issue — but not in the first — is a derelict amnesiac plagued with dreams of a former life of violence — in a suit of white. Is he a former Suit? In the first issue, however, we know only that he is probably the tortured narrator.

Because we don’t get to know either of these principals in the course of the book, the first issue fails on two counts: we don’t know them well enough to like them; and the mystery — who are the current incarnations of the White Suits and who are all those people being slaughtered and spurting blood, and who are their killers, exactly? — is far too cryptic to provoke the sort of curiosity that will make me buy the next issue.

To the extent that there is a completed episode (the function of which is to show us protagonists in action so we can assess their personalities), it is a five-page rampage followed by a two-page assassination—but we don’t know any of the characters, the living or the dying. The episode reveals nothing. Here are two of the five pages; we don’t know any of these people.

WhiteSuits

 

In short, the first issue of this title fails all the criteria I usually employ. But I bought the second issue anyhow because Cypress’ art is so spectacularly splattered willy nilly throughout. It’ll go on for another two issues, and by the end of the second, I’m starting to make sense of Frank Barbiere’s otherwise hit-and-miss narrative. So the first issue fails, but the second is beginning to redeem the title.

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

FIRST ISSUE: MOON KNIGHT

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.

Moon Knight posterAs you doubtless noticed, Marvel is faking a DC-like start-over, numbering several of its titles “No.1" (whether they’re first issues or not). One of them, Moon Knight, seems promising. Written by Warren Ellis, no slouch at weirdness, it seems to resume the tale of the Moon Knight, mercenary Mark Spector, who “died in Egypt under the statue of the ancient deity Khonshu, but he returned to life under the shadow of the moon god, and wore his aspect to fight crime for his own redemption.”

In this inaugural issue, the Moon Knight shows up to help the police solve a “slasher” murder. The victim, slashed to death by a sharp instrument, is missing a body part or two, and “Mr. Knight” (as the Moon Knight is called by the cops so as to preclude their having to report the presence of a “dangerous vigilante”), by examining the crime scene minutely, determines that the perpetrator lives nearby, below the city’s sewer system.

He goes down there, has a long talk with the villain, who is actually a beyond-repair former agent of SHIELD who was blown apart by an IED so badly that doctors couldn’t fix him up. So he rummages on his own, wandering the streets at night and killing solitary souls and stealing the body parts he needs to rejuvenate himself . He attacks the Moon Knight, who defends himself with an amulet in the shape of a quarter moon—flinging it at his attacker and sticking him in the midsection. Presumably, the bad guy dies; he was on his last legs anyhow. That’s the complete episode of the issue, and it reveals the Moon Knight to be a restrained but effective vigilante.

Declan Shalvey is a good visual storyteller, varying a routine grid layout with various special effects.

MoonKnight

And he and Ellis have determined that the character is at his effective best when he appears all white — all his clothing and hood. (With his hood off, his face is gray — gray as death, I assume, since he’s not, really, alive. Is he?)

On the issue’s concluding pages, a doctor tells Spector that he’s not, really, suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, as he’d supposed; he merely assumes at intervals various of Khonshu’s four aspects — “Pathfinder, Embracer, Defender and Watcher of overnight travelers.” He is seemingly alive because after dying, he was rescued by an “outerterrestrial entity,” who remade him to serve the purpose Khonshu has in mind.

“You’re not insane,” the doctor assures him. “Your brain has been colonized by an ancient consciousness from beyond space-time. Smile.” Typical Ellis mordant wit.

On the last page, Spector meets the Egyptian god with the head of a bird, who says: “You are my son.”

Presumably, we’re to return to find out more in this mode. The spooky, other-worldly stuff won’t bring me back. But Moon Knight’s efficient low-key vigilantism will.

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

SPIDER-MAN AND ALL THAT JAZZ

Now that we're in the throes of Blockbuster Season, it seems a propos to remember when Spider-Man was on the cover of April 4's Entertainment Weekly — again — this time, with Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which opened on May 2, the day before Free Comic Book Day, the annual spring rite that began, several years ago, on a Saturday after the opening of a blockbuster superhero flick. Yes, we’re repeating ourselves. Again.

But the cover story is not so much about the Spider-Man movie as it is about the whole panoply of superhero blockbusters lining up in the future. Planning at Sony is already well underway for Spidey movies for 2016 and 2018 “and is prepping two spin-offs focusing on [villains] Venom and the Sinister Six.” Even the bad guys are getting title roles.

Once upon a time, writes Sara Vilkomerson, “Hollywood executives thought one blockbuster at a time; if that blockbuster spawned a sequel a couple summers later, all the better. These days, studios need at least one megafranchise that is constantly morphing and replicating like an out-of-control lab experiment. ... [as does] the overlapping, crisscrossing, never-ending story that is ‘The Avengers’” at Disney/Marvel.

I realized that comic-booky flicks had stormed the summer box offices, but since I don’t often go to the movies (because I’m hard of hearing and can’t, therefore, hear much of what transpires — and because my Hunchback of Notre Dame first editionmost recent experience of a superhero flick, that terrible Superman movie that enacted a series of head-on car crashes), I hadn’t realized how pervasive the phenomenon has become. Beginning in 2009, we’ve had 21 big-budget special effects frenzies based upon comic book creations:

In 2009, “Watchmen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”; then in 2010, “Kick-Ass,” “Ironman 2,” and  “Jonah Hex”; then, in 2011, the flood started with five productions—“The Green Hornet,” “Thor,” “X-Men First Class,” Green Lantern,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In 2012 came another five: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” “The Avengers” (the biggest at the box office still), “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Dred.” In 2013, we had “Ironman 3,” the gawdawful “Man of Steel,” “R.I.P.D.,” “The Wolverine,” “Kick-Ass 2,” and “Thor: The Dark World.”

It all seems so wonderful. Suddenly, Hollywood has discovered what Marvel learned 50 years ago: if you hinge all your productions together, each supports the total edifice in a grandiose interlocking fantasy, and the whole shebang rings the cash register like Quasimodo in the bellfry of Notre Dame. (Incidentally, if you google “the hunchback of Notre Dame,” you get a listing that is mostly movies; it isn’t until the 7th item that you get Victor Hugo’s novel.)

But Doug Creutz, a media analyst, thinks the parade of spandex might exhaust the audience: “If Marvel’s going to make two or three films a year, and Warner Brothers is going to do at least a film every year, and Sony’s going to do a film every year, and Fox—which has the rights to X-men and the Fantastic Four—if they’re going to do a [superhero] film every year, can everyone do well in that scenario? I’m not sure they can.”

Until the celluloid moguls get their comeuppance, we’ll have a unending parade of superhero flicks at the movies.

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

FIRST ISSUE: STARLIGHT

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.

In the first issue of Starlight by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov, we meet Duke McQueen in the twilight of his career. He was the space hero who saved a planet, but now he’s retired and a widower. He returned from his intergalactic adventure, got married, had kids, and grew old, but his wife died of cancer and his kids have lives too busy to make room for him.

The narrative takes place mostly in the present — as McQueen gets ready to attend his wife’s funeral — but we glimpse his past greatness in flashbacks to that other planet he saved. We see his ruthless determination in battle and a tender human side in his platonic relationship with the queen of the local kingdom, who wants him to marry her and stay on to rule the planet together. But mostly, we see a sad, lonely old man — physically, a giant — as he contemplates a life alone without his wife of 38 years. And Parlov is excellent at rendering craggy, rugged-looking heroes—as he proved with Fury Max last year.

Two complete episodes reveal McQueen’s personality in considerable detail. At his wife’s funeral, he muses about their past life together, focusing for a moment upon a happy dinner the two shared just six months ago. A year later, he prepares a special dinner which he plans to share with his boys in commemoration of his wife’s, their mother’s, death. As he prepares the meal, he thinks back to some of the more spectacular of his deeds of derring-do. Then, with the table laid and the food cooked, he gets a phone call from one son, who’s forgotten the occasion; and he phones the other to cancel. In these episodes, we see McQueen’s psychic strength and his basic humanity.

As he prepares for bed, he looks at newspaper clippings on the wall, and we get the idea that his role as a planet’s savior was not believed when he returned to Earth; the headlines suggest most people thought he was perpetuating a hoax.

Starlight

He thinks again of the queen of that distant place, her beauty and her plea, and just then—the house shudders as a space ship hovers to land in the back yard.

From the back cover blurb, we know that the space ship has come to bring him back to the planet he once saved. On the last page of this issue, he mutters: “You gotta be kidding me.”

Excellent first issue.

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