A Centaur’s Life, Vol. 1 (Seven Seas): Easily the weirdest comic I read this month, Kei Murayama’s manga is about an alternate world where everything is the exact same as it is in ours, save for the fact that there are multiple races like centaurs, angel folk, goat folk, cat folk, dragon people and so on. Oh, and while human beings apparently still exist, the only one glimpsed is a medieval knight seen in flashback, having enslaved a centaur is some bizarre armor/restraining device in order to ride him.
What makes the manga so weird, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason, at least not in this first volume, for why our heroine Himeno is a centaur, and why her classmates are all various fantasy races living out an otherwise completely mundane existence.
Himeno is a sweet, shy, pretty and popular Japanese schoolgirl (who is also a centaur). She’s afraid of boys, likes hanging out with her friends, and love sweets, although she worries about getting fat. The stories are mostly of the frivolous high-school comedy sort that could easily have been told with human characters.
In the first story, Himeno is self-conscious about her genitals, which she’s never looked at, as she’s afraid they might resemble those of a cow the kids once saw on a field trip (unlike some centaurs, the ones in this comic keep their horse parts covered in elaborate pants that appear difficult to put on and take off). In another, her class puts on a play, and she’s cast as the female lead, while her best friend — a girl with bat wings, a spade-shaped tail and pointy ears — is the male lead. In another, she’s suspected of doing some modeling work, in violation of school policy regarding part-time jobs.
Last week DC Comics rolled out its February solicitations, but Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns has already been talking up plans for April. He described the end of Forever Evil as the beginning of the New 52′s “Phase Two,” which would include a host of changes, introductions and reintroductions.
Of course, it’s not like the Internet needs an excuse for ill-informed speculation. In fact, I count just 46* ongoing series in February’s New 52 lineup — and one of those (StormWatch) will be ending in April – so DC will have some roster slots to fill. Therefore, this week let’s look at who might get called up and what DC might introduce.
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Initially, DC divided the New 52 into categories like “Young Justice” (like Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes or Blue Beetle), “The Dark” (I Vampire, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein) and “The Edge” (Deathstroke, Grifter, All Star Western) to go along with the more traditional franchise-oriented groups based around Batman, Green Lantern, etc. This doesn’t quite work any more, mainly because 21e original New 52 series have since been canceled, and a lot of those came from The Edge, The Dark, and Young Justice.
“Ultraman is not an evil Superman. He’s a Superman who believes in power and strength. Strength is the most important attribute, above everything else. If you’re strong, and you’re the strongest there is, that’s all that matters. And that’s how Ultraman views everything.
The fact that there was a being that destroyed Krypton and then ravaged his Earth and could possibly come to ours — he actually is worried in the back of his head that there’s something out there that’s stronger than him. His motivation is to shore this world up and prepare for war.
And Ultraman’s a perfect example of the absence of empathy. Complete absence of empathy. He comes to our world and he sees things like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and he sees us taking care of the sick, and he does not understand it. Why do we waste our time? In his mind, we’re keeping our gene pool weak. And that all points back to his paranoia about our world not being ready to fight, or strong enough to survive an attack.”
– Forever Evil writer Geoff Johns, discussing the Crime Syndicate and their “different breed of villainy”
Because this space is normally reserved for DC Comics and its stable of characters, you might think a post on Miracleman goes a little outside the lines. However, Miracleman was based on Captain Marvel, who is a DC character in the same way that Miracleman is now a Marvel character: the wonderful world of intellectual-property rights. That’s just one of several traits the two features share, so today I’ll be comparing and contrasting. I’ll also consider whether Marvel’s upcoming Miracleman revival could affect DC’s latest version.
Miracleman (under its original name of Marvelman, but you knew that already) started out as a way to hold onto British readers of Captain Marvel when the latter closed up shop in the mid-1950s. In that form, the series lasted until 1963. In 1982, writer Alan Moore headed up a revival that started by updating familiar elements, but ended up going off in a decidedly different direction. As reprinted, renamed, and subsequently completed in the United States, Moore’s Miracleman (from Eclipse Comics) filled 16 issues, give or take some reprints, and came out over the course of about four and a half years (cover-dated August 1985 to December 1989). Moore’s artistic collaborators included Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Chuck Austen (under the name Chuck Beckum), Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. From June 1990 to June 1993, Eclipse published eight more issues, written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Mark Buckingham, and an anthology miniseries (Miracleman Apocrypha) came out from November 1991 to February 1992. For various reasons, though, no new Miracleman has seen the light of day for over twenty years.
That’s all about to change, starting with January’s reprints from Marvel. It remains to be seen whether today’s readers will be interested in 20- to 30-year-old stories from a writer whose popularity isn’t what it once was, and which will apparently be reprinted initially in a somewhat-pricey format. Additionally, Miracleman has turned into much more of an “Alan Moore book,” as opposed to a Captain Marvel parody. Therefore, its return doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing which will automatically generate more interest in Captain Marvel; but their similarities (and even some of their differences) can be instructive.
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With a little more than two years under its belt, DC Comics’ New 52 still has plenty of corners left to explore and hundreds of characters of varying levels of popularity to re-introduce. (Where are you, Wally West?) So when I saw Celsius, Negative Woman and Tempest pop up in this week’s Justice League #24, I couldn’t help but smile a little.
Combined with the New 52 Robotman, who’s sporting a look very similar to the one Cliff Steele had when that version of the team debuted in 1977′s Showcase #94, we officially have Paul Kupperberg’s Doom Patrol joining the ever-growing ranks of “new” heroes opposing the seemingly all-powerful Crime Syndicate. But certainly more interesting than that, this panel, almost a throwaway, fills out the current DCU in a way we haven’t seen much since the early days of the relaunch.
Current Aquaman artist Paul Pelletier has a long and varied history in comics, dating back to the late 1980s. When I learned Jeff Parker would replace Geoff Johns as the series’ writer (beginning with Aquaman #26), I was pleased that DC Comics chose to leave Pelletier on the title (as opposed to switching to a new art team, as frequently happens). I enjoy Pelletier’s take on Aquaman, and I was surprised to learn he’s not well-versed in some of the character’s earlier runs (so readers, please be sure to share your favorite runs in the comments section, since the artist asked “which runs would the Aqua-fans recommend?”). It was a unique opportunity, prior to the October 23 release of Aquaman #24, to chat with the veteran artist as he transitions from collaborating with one veteran writer to another. Plus, I enjoyed hearing about Pelletier’s appreciation of basketball legend Larry Bird.
Tim O’Shea: Once you realized Arthur would be sporting a beard again, did you draw a couple of versions of beards (goatee versus full beard) or did you and Geoff always have one look in mind when it came to Aquaman’s facial hair?
Paul Pelletier: When Geoff wrote Aquaman with the beard, it was a result of Arthur being unconscious for six months, so I figured it wouldn’t be too stylized. A full beard that wasn’t too manicured made sense to me. Now if the beard was to remain, then we might have to think about something a bit more tailored to Arthur.
At the risk of overstating things, I may have just read the single greatest book of all time, Capstone’s DC Super-Pets Character Encyclopedia, a compendium of more than 200 heroic and villainous pets, compiled mainly from the line of Art Baltazar-illustrated chapter books for young readers.
You see, here are four of my favorite things about comic books: 1) colorful characters of what has become known as the DC Universe, 2) pets and animal allies of superheroes, 3) Art Baltazar’s artwork, and 4) encyclopedias, profiles, atlases, maps and suchlike detailing the often-exhaustive trivia of a byzantine superhero universes.
In other words, this is a book that is pretty much perfect for me, despite that, at 36 years old, I’m well outside the target audience for the DC Super-Pets line of books.
I’ve read a few of those, but despite the copious amounts of Baltazar illustrations, they’re really hard to get into. They’re not comics and they’re not picture books, but illustrated prose; technically all-ages, but harder, I think, for grown-ups to get into than all-ages comics might be, as there’s no getting around the fact that an adult reader is going to feel like they’re being talked down to (and for good reason).
But this book is pretty much perfect for adult fans of Baltazar or those curious about the Super-Pets line who haven’t been able to get into those books, as it excises the worst part — the prose for kids — and boasts the best parts, the pictures and the often somewhat-insane characters starring in them (for example, there’s a book titled Swamp Thing vs. The Zombie Pets, in which Swampy and his animal neighbors in The Down Home Critter Gang come into conflict with Solomon Grundy and his gang of undead pets).
I devoured every page of the encyclopedia, and much of its contents were somewhat shocking.
While many of his colleagues are busy this weekend at New York Comic Con, Geoff Johns will be in East Lansing, Michigan, serving as grand marshal of Michigan State University’s Homecoming.
In honor of Johns, chief creative officer of DC Entertainment and a 1995 graduate of MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences, this year’s Homecoming theme is “Creating Spartan Super Heroes.” That spills over into a limited-edition guide/comic book that includes such heroes as Sparty (the school’s mascot), who has “the ability to uncover the extraordinary in everyone,” Cognos, a former candle maker who possesses telepathy and superhuman intellect, and the Muse, a former art teacher who carries a “mirrored shield that provides inspiration to solve challenging problems.”
The week of festivities kicked off Monday with hay rides and a flag find, but it looks like the grand marshal’s role begins Wednesday with “An Evening With Geoff Johns,” a $25-per-person presentation, Q&A and autograph-signing sponsored by the MSU Alumni Association and the College of Arts and Letters. He’ll follow that on Thursday with a free “Media Sandbox Event and Storytelling Class with Geoff Johns” for students, staff and alumni of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
Batwoman Vol. 3: World’s Finest (DC Comics): It’s difficult to talk about this comic without also discussing the announced departure of its creative team which, like several others that have worked on DC’s New 52, left amid quite public complaints of editorial interference.
As an auteur-driven book starring a relatively new character that’s barely been drawn by anyone other than artist and co-writer J.H. Williams III, the whole affair strikes me as strange, as Williams seems to be at least as big a factor in the book’s continued existence as the word “Bat” in its title. And it’s stranger still he and co-writer W. Haden Blackman are only now reaching the breaking point, as from a reader’s perspective, DC appeared to have pretty much left them alone to do their own thing; like Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated and the Geoff Johns-written portions of Green Lantern, this book seems set in its own universe and is sort of impossible to integrate into the New 52 if one thinks about it for too long (with “too long” being “about 45 seconds”).
Regularly cited as one of the best of DC’s current crop of comics, Batwoman is definitely the company’s best-looking, and most intricately, even baroquely designed and illustrated. As for the word half of the story equation, I found Batwoman — and this volume in particular — to be extremely strange, even weird, more than I found it to be good.
Publishing | This may seem a little inside-baseball, but it’s actually pretty significant: Dark Horse will switch from Diamond Book Distributors to Random House for book-market distribution, effective June 1, 2014. The publisher is sticking with Diamond for comics, but a lot of its line has appeal outside the direct market — the Avatar graphic novels, the Zelda guide — and Dark Horse wants to expand its presence in bookstores. This also makes for an interesting consolidation of manga distribution, as Random House also distributes Kodansha Comics (with which it has a strong business relationship) and Vertical books. [ICv2]
Comics | Superheroes may rule on television and in film, but comics continue to be a niche medium. The Associated Press reporter Melissa Rayworth talks to a comic-shop owner whose customers skulk in on the down low, an opera singer whose friends are surprised she reads comics, and Comics Alliance writer Chris Sims, who does a good job of putting things in perspective. [ABC]
Passings | Roy Peterson, editorial cartoonist for the Vancouver Sun, died Sunday at the age of 77. During his 40-year career, Peterson won more National Newspaper Awards than any other Canadian creator, but he was remembered by his peers chiefly for his sense of humor and his mentoring of younger artists. [Vancouver Sun]
Publishing | CNN contributor Bob Greene profiles Victor Gorelick, the editor-in-chief and co-president of Archie Comics who began working for the publisher at age 17, in 1958. [CNN.com]
Creators | Craig Thompson talks about the short story he wrote and drew for First Second’s Fairy Tale Comics anthology, and he reveals an interesting fact: “For six years or so, my entire income was based on drawing kids’ comics for [Nickelodeon] magazine. Later on my career shifted to drawing ‘serious’ graphic novels aimed at adult readers, but I’ve always wanted to revisit my more fun and cartoony style.” Former Nickelodeon editor Chris Duffy is the editor of Fairy Tale Comics. [Hero Complex]
When the Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 invaded and seemingly conquered Earth-New 52 in Forever Evil #1, claiming to have killed the members of the Justice Leagues, the home-Earth villains took over DC comics, scrawling their names over the logos of their foes and initiating other evil acts like using decimal points in their issue numbers and putting the wrong stories in the wrong titles. (A Dial H epilogue and a Lobo one-shot in Justice League comics? A Batgirl story in a Batman comic?). But, most nefariously of all, the villains of DC Comics raised the price of each issue by a dollar and launched one of the biggest gimmick covers schemes in the modern history of direct market super-comics: heavy, plastic, 3D lenticular covers primed to be collected more so than read, and sparking insidious speculation, goosed my unpredictable shortages to many retailers. The monsters.
But while most attention has been focused on the covers, there are, in fact, stories beneath them, and so for the past three weeks we’ve been not judging the books by their covers, but by their contents. (Here’s Week One, Week Two and Week Three, if you missed ‘em.) As in the previous months, I’ve been ranking the books on their overall quality, on a scale of one to 10: Not Very Good, Somewhat Disobedient, Naughty, Morally Deficient, Without Scruples, Iniquitous, Wicked, Maleficent, Evil and Absolute Evil (although, as none received a perfect 10, you might want to adjust your reception of my ratings up by one).
Also, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve been noting how connected each is to the Forever Evil event that ostensibly led to this state of affairs at DC, so, if you’re only interested in these things for their narrative import rather than their creators or characters, you’ll know which are worth your attention. So let’s take one last wallow in the evil of (almost) every issue of this week’s Villains Month, and hope for the swift and triumphant return of our heroes starting next month.
DC Entertainment may not have planned it this way — “planning” being something with which DC may be only tangentially familiar — but I doubt its high-ups wanted to release these December solicitations the Monday after what had to be a pretty rough weekend. When you’ve just had to deal with a celebrated creative team walking off a fairly successful book — citing “editorial interference,” and reminding people that the character’s original writer also left after increasing frustration with DC — you might not want to follow that up by calling attention to all the other changes coming before the end of the year.
And don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of Batwoman and “sucky personal life” talk before we’re done. Solicits first, though …
If the first week of Villains Month is any indication, a good bit of the decimal-point issues will feature stories set in the early stages of the Crime Syndicate’s takeover. This wasn’t that apparent from the September solicits, and subsequent months also appeared light on explicit crossovers. December is about the same, with Teen Titans dropping out of the crossover lineup, and Pandora and Phantom Stranger joining the three Justice League books, the three Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries, and Suicide Squad.
DC Comics kicked off its Villains Month last week, as the evil opposites of the Justice League invaded the DC Universe, seemingly disposing of all the heroes and taking over the world.
Likewise, the villains have been taking over DC’s New 52 line of comic books, with the MIA heroes finding the covers of their books occupied by bad guys. Those are, of course, the collectible and somewhat-controversial (among retailers) 3D lenticular covers.
But as the case with books, we shouldn’t judge a comic by its cover, so let’s continue reviewing our way through the contents of the Villains Month issues. As with last week’s batch, I’m rating each book on a 10-point scale of how evil it is, with “Not Very Good” being the worst and “Absolute Evil” the best, and noting its connectivity to the Forever Evil crossover event that sparked the promotion in the first place.
Conventions | The fourth Cincinnati Comic Expo kicks off Friday, just a week after the inaugural Cincinnati ComicCon, but administrator Matt Bredestege says he thinks his show has a broader appeal: “We are more of a multigenre show. We have a lot of celebrities and vendors that aren’t comic-related. There’s also more cosplay (costuming) and activities for the kids.” Still, he says, local comics creators are the backbone of the show. The comics guest list includes Dough Mahnke, Art Baltazar, Eddy Barrows, Andy Bennett, Heather Breckel, Rich Buckler, Mike McKone, Yanick Paquette and Thom Zahler. [Journal News]
Creators | Writer Geoff Johns talks about the DC Comics crossover Forever Evil and how it will upend the publisher’s superhero universe while making an unlikely hero of Lex Luthor. [The Detroit News]