The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
What do an out-of-sequence crime story leaning heavily on the imagery of surrealist painter Rene Magritte, a send-up of 1950s sci-fi films in which producers use rear-projection of real animals to create the semi-convincing illusion of giant versions, a parody of the existentialist play Waiting For Godot, and an action-packed, two-joke tale in which a Santo-like masked Mexican wrestler battles his way through the monsters of film history have to do with one another?
On the surface, nothing at all. However, they’re the first four of the 11 comics in If You Steal, the latest collection from Norwegian cartoonist Jason. The same variety is evidenced in the other seven stories, which include a straightforward horror story about a vampire killer, another in which Frida Kahlo is a contract killer, and maybe the longest, most elaborate JFK conspiracy theory ever, one that borrows elements from almost every other, to blend them together into a single, ridiculously elaborate mega-plot.
It would be an exaggeration to say Dark Horse saved this 22-year-old Aliens one-shot from obscurity by re-publishing it in a slick, if slim, new hardcover, although it’s tempting to do so, if only for the play on words.
In reality, re-releasing Aliens: Salvation in this nice, standalone, bookshelf-ready format probably has as much to do with putting out one more book with Mike Mignola’s name on the spine as making sure that one of the better-looking, more idiosyncratically designed Aliens tie-ins is readily available.
The fact that it’s back in print and on shelves this week is more important than the how and why of it, though.
It’s penciled by Mignola, who also drew the original cover as well as what appears to be a new one (in his current, even more stripped-down style), from a script by Dave Gibbons. It’s inked by Kevin Nowlan, colored by Matt Hollingsworth and lettered by Clem Robins.
Baba Yaga is a popular and enduring character from Slavic and Russian folklore, distinguished from her fellow witches by both her unique mode of conveyance (a flying mortar and pestle) and home (a semi-sentient cottage perched atop a pair of chicken legs). Undoubtedly a creature created in oral tradition, like most folkloric heroes and villains she’s appeared in every media as its been invented.
In comics, she’s had recurring roles in Bill Willingham and company’s Fables and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. The Marvel Universe has its own Baba Yaga, and naturally Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales has a “sexy” Baba Yaga among its sprawling cast. But if you want to know what the best Baba Yaga comic is, I would say it’s 1992’s The Sandman #38, by Neil Gaiman and artists Duncan Eagleson and Vince Locke.
Or at least I would’ve said that if you asked me a few weeks ago. Now that I’ve read Baba Yaga’s Assistant, a new graphic novel by first-time writer Marika McCoola and artist Emily Carroll, I’m not so sure.
Every Wednesday evening for the past few months, I’d visit my local comic shop, scan the little piles of Secret Wars tie-ins stacked on the counter and flip through many of the more appealing-looking ones before ultimately setting them down, knowing I’ll get to them eventually, when they’re collected. Due to the price of almost all of Marvel’s comics, I’ve given up on reading them as they’re released, and instead wait to read them in trade.
Now I have read a handful of Secret Wars comics that I found at my friend’s apartment — the first issues of A-Force, The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Secret Wars Journal, X-Men ’92 – so I understand the general premise of the tie-ins, if not what’s going on in the main book. The downside of reading trades instead of single issues is that you’re always one event series behind everyone else. (How about that Axis, huh?)
I mention my own buying habits here only because this week I encountered a Secret Wars tie-in that looked so good, and looked even better the more I flipped through it, that I simply couldn’t resist buying it, despite its fairly substantial $4.99 price: Secret Wars: Secret Love #1, a one-shot anthology featuring five romantic stories set in various corners of the “patchwork world” of Secret Wars. And the fact that I did break down and buy it is kind of a review in and of itself.
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You would be forgiven for having low expectations, or no expectations, for DC Comics: Bombshells, the digital-first comic based collectible statuettes, and subsequent variant covers, that reimagine the publisher’s female characters in a sexy pin-up style.
However, those aren’t necessarily the best places to turn for inspiration; in fact, DC’s previous digital-first comic based on a line of statuettes, Ame-Comi Girls, left a lot to be desired.
So, as I said, you’d be forgiven for not expecting much from Bombshells, which debuted in print this week. But if you’re a fan of DC’s superheroines, you might not forgive yourself for missing out on this comic; it’s pretty great.
DC Entertainment’s latest direct-to-DVD animated film, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, marks the return of Bruce Timm to DC’s superheroes. Timm is, of course, a familiar presence to a generation of fans, as cartoons featuring his design style and creative input were on television from the 1992 debut of Batman: The Animated Series to the 2006 finale of Justice League Unlimited (and those shows and everything in between them now live forever online and on DVD).
Gods and Monsters features Timm’s designs, and he additionally co-wrote the story with longtime collaborator Alan Burnett and executive produced the film (Sam Liu directed it).
DC is certainly treating the film as an event, as the company has produced a suite of a half-dozen tie-in comics, something not usually done for animated projects (although it should be noted the bulk of its recent animated films have been direct adaptations of particular story arcs, making comic tie-ins redundant; Gods and Monsters shares a title with a 2001 JLA one-shot, but is otherwise an original project).
The guest-creator period of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC and TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the latter half of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s Batman comics, the death and return of Superman (and the “Reign of the Supermen” that came between), the first few issues of Spawn from upstart publisher Image Comics – these were my introduction to a medium that 14-year-old me would be surprised to discover I’m still writing about on the Internet 25 years later (but not as shocked as he would’ve been by the very existence of the Internet, of course).
Another thing I found at the time was a TV show that was seemingly on a good four hours every weeknight, between the end of cross-country practice and the time I took my bath, thanks to syndication and the explosion of cable channels: Saved by the Bell.
There he had a sleek Mike Allred-designed costume — perhaps the best Ant-Man costume of them all – and was Reed Richards’ hand-picked choice to lead a temporary, back-up Fantastic Four and a school for young super-geniuses, The Future Foundation, in case something should happen to the team while they were exploring (something does). Ant-Man began dating Johnny Storm’s ex, the beautiful young pop star Darla Deering, and went on to plan and execute the defeat of Doctor Doom, the world’s greatest villain.
Wait, scratch that. That was the last place I saw Ant-Man Scott Lang in comics. The actual last place I saw him was at the movie theater, where he was a down-on-his-luck, good-hearted ex-con trying to do right by his daughter using his shrinking powers.
Guess which one of those two takes the new Ant-Man comic more closely resembles?
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Godzilla has starred in 30 films, two animated TV series and more books, comic books and video games than I can count. Despite all of the stories in all types of media that Godzilla has appeared in for over 60 years now, I’ve never once seriously considered the question of where Godzilla might go when he dies.
The latest IDW series Godzilla In Hell makes me do just that, however, and the publisher, editor Bobby Curnow and writer/artist James Stokoe deserve some serious respect for doing something completely new and completely original with such a well-traveled pop culture character.
Not that thinking of something new, fresh and original to do with the giant monster is the only virtue to Stokoe’s return to the King of the Monsters, of course.
Stokoe’s previous Godzilla comic was the 2012 Godzilla: The Half-Century War, an epic adventure that doubled as a sort of meta-commentary on Godzilla’s film career, and the evolution of the monster and the world’s perception of him during that time.
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That’s some stunt.
For quite a while now, publisher Archie Comics has been engaged in an ongoing campaign of stunt comics, all seemingly calculated to secure the most mainstream media coverage. They introduced characters that made the notoriously conservative comics more representatively diverse. They had a same-sex marriage. They married Archie to Betty…and they married Archie to Veronica (In alternate future timelines, of course). They killed Archie. They had the gang from Riverdale meet Kiss, President Barack Obama and then-Governor Sarah Palin, and even a Predator. They even launched an honest-to-God, mature-readers horror comic in which Archie and friends battle to survive a zombie apocalypse.
But relaunching Archie with a new #1, a new creative team and a new direction has got to be their best stunt yet. Certainly, the move boasts some of the same calculation that went into those mentioned above (many of which did produce some good comics, no matter how cynically you want to view the decisions behind them). Hiring Mark Waid, one of the more popular and maybe the most reliable of superhero writers, and Fiona Staples, an immensely talented artist who achieved superstardom via creator-owned Image series Saga, is every bit as attention-getting as setting the issue counter back down to #1, or having an ungodly 21 (Twenty-one!) covers, or divorcing the book from its long-time house style.
It works though, and it works for the most simple of reasons: The new Archie #1 isn’t just new and it isn’t just different, it’s also very good.
This being the Internet, there very well may be someone somewhere who does not, in fact, care for Beaton’s work, but I’ve never run across that person. Similarly, it’s difficult to find a cartoonist whose work is so widely enjoyed and championed that affection for it approaches universal.
From her long-running online comics about historical and literary figures (collected in the Hark! A Vagrant books, a second volume of which is due soon) to her online-only, more-doodled-than-drawn strips about visiting her family, Beaton’s work is always engaging and easy to share.
All Star Section Eight #1
By Garth Ennis, John McCrea and John Kalisz
Did you like Hitman, the best series DC Comics ever published? Well, good news! It’s back … kinda. The Hitman creative team reunites for this miniseries starring the few surviving members of the title.
The premise is that Sixpack, the delusional alcoholic leader of the most dysfunctional superhero team ever created returns from the dead (i.e. being sober) to combat a threat that only Section Eight can stop. Because most of Section Eight is dead, he needs to put together a new team, and he can only come up with seven, so he needs to recruit one more hero. Like Batman, maybe.
Batman doesn’t bite, of course, but Ennis and McCrea have come up with a premise that allows them to make fun of the DC Universe, continue the story of a handful of their characters without having to reconcile continuity differences on either side of Flashpoint, or worry about taking away from the tale they so completely and perfectly told in the pages of Hitman.
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The last time IDW Publishing’s Ghostbusters comic was involved in a crossover, it was a very weird pairing with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For the new event, the Ghostbusters are teamed with a more natural, but perhaps weirder franchise: another version of the Ghostbusters.
Specifically, The Real Ghostbusters, the 1986-1991 animated series that spun out of the 1984 film and spawned a popular toy line two comic book titles. The oddly applied adjective “Real” came about to further distinguish these Ghostbusters from those that starred in a 1986 Filmation cartoon based on a mostly forgotten 1975 Ghost Busters TV series.
That’s why this series is called Ghostbusters: Get Real. Get it? (Now that I think of it, maybe the weirdest of all possible Ghostbusters crossovers would be one involving those from the ’84 film with those from the ’75 TV show.)
Cartoonist Rick Geary owns the genre of true crime comics, having produced some 15 volumes of his Treasury series since 1987, chronicling the most famous and sensational murders of the Victorian era, and continuing toward the present.
His latest original graphic novel is a departure, a work of fiction telling a story that has, at its heart, a rather complex pair of murders. But it’s not much of a departure. Not only is Geary’s visual and verbal style unchanged, his interest in history, reality and ready-made characters is in tact. In Louise Brooks: Detective, Geary writes about a fictitious crime, but he uses a real protagonist, and sets the invented events within her biography.
That real protagonist is, of course, Louise Brooks, an actress from the dawn of the American motion picture industry, who is today probably best remembered for popularizing bangs and the bobbed haircut (in fact, that’s in the first sentence of her Wikipedia entry), and for the grip she holds on the imagination of comics artists like John H. Striebel, Guido Crepax and Hugo Pratt, all of whom based characters on her.
And Geary, of course, who here uses her as a character.
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DC Comics returns from its two-month Convergence break with a reinvigorated line, including more than 20 new series, new directions for existing titles, a new “DC You” promotional campaign, and a brief commercial message from Nick Lachey.
Among the most notable changes evidenced this week is the wildly increased diversity of the publisher’s offerings. Over the past 43 months or so of the New 52, DC was particularly daring in the oddball titles, characters and concepts launched, likely the result of having a set goal of 52 books (and the knowledge that they had some 75 years’ worth of IP to exploit). But while the publisher toyed with twists of the superhero genre (superhero war comics, superhero horror comics, superhero Western comics, etc.) and went surprisingly deep into its character catalog (Dial H, The Green Team, Infinity Man and The Forever People), there wasn’t much diversity in terms of tone or visual style.
That’s no longer the case. This week’s new releases include comedy miniseries starring Bat-Mite and Bizarro — two particularly fun Silver Age characters – and featuring intentionally cartoony styles that are as far removed from Jim Lee-derived New 52 house style as one can imagine.