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One of the most symbolic moments of Superman is when he changes from his guise as Clark Kent to become the Man of Steel. The idea that the wearing of a costume imbues some kind of unquantifiable power is a key part of what makes superhero comics work; otherwise, they’d just be adventurers and action heroes.
But speaking of change, changes in superhero costumes have become as much a part of the comics as the heroes themselves. From Superman’s early days with his golden emblem to the modern “S” today and on through to other years (including Batman’s countless wardrobe changes), the design of a superhero isn’t static and a redesign has proved, many times, to be just the thing to make a character work.
In this week’s “Six by 6,” I pinpoint six of the most dynamic and powerful redesigns in superhero comics. Redesigns that saved a character from obscurity, put them in a new light or simply simplified what was already there.
There’s more to superheroes than those residing at Marvel and DC Comics. Sure, they might dominate the market, but that doesn’t mean they’re by default the best.
Outside the realms of the Big Two, superheroes are thriving on the more independently minded scene. From a mixture of throwback superheroics to off-beat adventures, and even some superheroes who are willing to go where DC and Marvel wouldn’t let their own properties, there’s a cornucopia out there for readers. And now, we’re spotlighting six standouts in that superhero mix in this week’s “Six by 6.”
Having just edited, and written some of, a collection of essays titled The Devil Is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil (debuting from Sequart at Emerald City Comic Con), I’ve spent a lot of time reading Daredevil comics. I’ve soaked them all up, processed them, and seen them analyzed scores of ways.
Daredevil is an amazing character and title, and there will always be runs and stories that get praise; we hear about them constantly. So I wanted to quickly bring light to some of my lesser-known favorites. Here are six Daredevil stories that are consistently ignored and yet I think you should track them down.
1. Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir
This 1993 graphic novel was a gem I didn’t even know existed until very recently. I had never heard anyone mention this weird and violent tale from Jim Starlin and Joe Chiodo, and I worried that might be because it was terrible. I was happy to discover, after finding a secondhand copy on Amazon, that wasn’t the case.
The story has Black Widow chase down a brutal butcher family of sorts that’s killing telepathic S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Daredevil nominates himself as the guardian devil for his old flame, and the game is afoot. What follows is as much a psychological game as it is a barbaric fighting match. Axes and chains are as dangerous as flashbacks and barbed words. This book is a mature read, as the blood flows loosely and we even get a narratively charged female-on-female kiss — something I have to assume was risqué for a Marvel book in the early ‘90s.
I live north of Boston, and as I write, my front door is snowed shut (don’t worry, the neighbor kid is shoveling it out) and my car is immobilized behind a large berm of snow. The nameless blizzard of ’13 didn’t wreak any major damage in my area, but I’m going to be staying in for a while.
This doesn’t bother me; I grew up in Northern Indiana, where you could count on being completely snowed in at least once a winter, and we sort of liked it. It clears a space in your life; when you can’t go out and most of the activity in the outside world has stopped, it’s a great time to light a fire, pour the drink of your choice (for me it’s hot tea) and hunker down with a good book. Here are six graphic novels that evoke that winter feeling, all of which are equally enjoyable whether you are reading them by a snowy window or on the beach.
Chikyu Misaki | This three-volume manga, published many years ago by the now-defunct CMX, is a charming all-ages story about two children who find a shape-shifting lake monster in their country town. It’s structured like a caper movie, but one of the things I really enjoy about it is Yūji Iwahara’s wonderful art, which perfectly evokes the feeling of a country house on a snowy day. You’ll have to pick it up used or from the library, though, as it’s long out of print.
Having reflected back on the best (and most cruelly ignored) comics of the past year, it’s time to look forward. Here are six comics I’m really excited about reading this year. As usual, my list reflects my own alt-comix/alt-manga interests/biases. So let me know in the comments what titles I’ve been such a clod as to overlook.
It’s time once again to take a look at those comics that were unfairly ignored. With more graphic novels and comic books coming out in stores than ever before, it’s perhaps inevitable that some titles slip through the cracks, not due to a lack of quality, but simply because they got lost in the Wednesday shuffle. The books listed here aren’t necessarily my personal favorite books of 2012. Rather, they’re good — even great — books that, for whatever reason, didn’t get the sort of praise — either online or in print — that they deserved.
Tokyopop has come back to life, sort of: The manga publisher unveiled its revamped website a few days ago, and the company is once again selling books, in partnership with Right Stuf (for print) and Graphicly (for digital). The only Japanese manga available on the new site is Hetalia; Tokyopop’s licenses for other series lapsed, and most of them probably aren’t coming back, although CEO Stu Levy dangled the possibility of some new licenses in a panel last week at Anime LA. What’s left is a good-sized collection of Tokyopop’s Original English Language (OEL) manga and a few graphic-novel imports from countries other than Japan.
Although Tokyopop’s OEL line earned a fair amount of derision at the time, many of the books were actually pretty solid. In addition, they provided paying work for many young and veteran artists. Here’s a look at six that are of interest either because of the creators or because they are so strong (or both).
East Coast Rising: Becky Cloonan’s first full-length graphic novel, this urban-pirate story earned a nomination for Best New Series in the 2007 Eisner Awards. Alas, there was never a second volume.
Our Shelf Porn feature almost died from natural causes earlier this year. It wasn’t because we wanted it to die, but after four years, the submission well began to dry up. Could we have reached a point where everyone who wants to show off their shelves has shown off their shelves? I thought. You always hear about this limited number of comic collectors out there in the world, so maybe, statistically speaking, we’d hit critical mass on the subset of that number who own cameras or like to take pictures or read the site or whatever.
It wasn’t the first time we’d seen submissions slow down, but there was enough of a gap between February and July that I thought maybe that was it. But you can’t keep a good Shelf Porn down, it seems; over the past few months, we’ve had a bit of a resurgence in submissions. In fact, I think I have enough submissions to make it through the end of January. So thanks to everyone who submitted this year and kept it from going the way of the dinosaur.
With it being the end of the year and all, I wanted to look back at the year in Shelf Porn, and as I started going through the ones we’ve posted here, it occurred to me that a lot of them had some defining element that really jumped out at me–usually in the realm of “Man, I wish I had one of those!” So instead of doing a “best of” list, I thought I’d focus in on six 2012 submissions that made me envious …
Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and Captain America are all household names, but they can’t hold a candle to the real estate that Santa Claus holds in the hearts and minds of people around the world. And although superhero comics have been known from time to time to take public domain characters and turn them into big franchises, Santa Claus has been more of a guest star than a comics mainstay. But when he shows up, you’re in for something special.
Here are six appearances and incarnations of Kris Kringle that’ll warm up any fanboy’s fireplace:
Comics have become ideal source material in Hollywood’s eternal search for the next blockbuster. But in the numerous attempts to transform comic-book heroes into movie stars, some have, inevitably, failed in the making. I don’t mean failed as in bad, but rather adaptations that were announced only to be canceled before moving into production. For today’s “Six by 6,” I look at six instances of movies that spiraled into an early grave, and commiserate over what could’ve been.
1. George Miller’s Justice League: In 2007, Warner Bros. was hard at work developing a a feature based on DC Comics’ top superhero team. In September 2007, the studio announced the hiring of director George Miller of Mad Max and Happy Feet fame, and pushed to get the film finished before the writers’ strike. The proposed budget clocked in at $220 million, with set already being constructed by early 2008 in Australia. Producers even went so far as casting Armie Hammer as Batman, Megan Gale as Wonder Woman, Common as Green Lantern and Adam Brody as the Flash, before the project was abruptly shelved. After the creation of DC Entertainment in 2009, this Justice League movie was permanently canned in favor of a new approach. I would love to have witnessed a movie like this. Miller is an excellent, and mind-bendingly diverse, director, and much of the movie would have relied on the strength of the script.
We’re in the final hours of the 2012 Presidental Election, and while it may seem comics are far removed from the nitty-gritty of politics, they’re not. Many presidents past and present have stepped into comics, from Barack Obama in The Amazing Spider-Man to a time-traveling Teddy Roosevelt in Tales From the Bully Pulpit. But comics also home to a number of shocking (and sometimes shockingly good) commanders-in-chief for the good ol’ U.S. of A. We thought, given the time of year, to rack our brains and come up with the six craziest heads of state for these United States.
Comic creators come and go, but it’s the ones who stick around and become veterans who tend to make the biggest mark on the industry. Some work continuously in comics while others take a hiatus from the business and then return later: Jack Kirby did it, as did James Robinson, Alex Toth, Brian K. Vaughn and others.
One of the most recent big splashes by a returning veteran has been Greg Capullo, who took a hiatus from comics in the 2000s after making a name for himself on Spawn, X-Force and Quasar. In 2009, he limbered up working on Image’s Haunt and sealed the deal when he jumped to DC Comics in 2011 to relaunch Batman with Scott Snyder. That got me thinking: Are there other creators floating around on the outskirts of comics, or outside of comics completely, who could pose a formidable force if they returned to comics — and more importantly, if the comics industry knew how to use them? It’s with that in mind that I compiled this list.
For those that aren’t in the know, it was announced last week that Richard Thompson (the cartoonist, not the Fairport Convention guitarist) is bringing to a close his daily comic strip Cul de Sac due to the demands of his ongoing struggle with Parkinson’s disease. It’s rotten news, both in the sense that a talented artist is being denied the opportunity to make a living doing what he loves and, from a more selfish perspective, the sense that readers like myself will be denied the opportunity to enjoy what I regard as the best comic strip going, no arguments.
In honor of Mr. Thompson (who, by the way, I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing and is a warm, funny and lovely man) I thought, rather than try to sift through and pick my favorite individual strips (a madman’s game if ever there was one) I’d list some of my favorite characters instead. Hopefully my meager descriptions will be enough to spur those of you unfamiliar with the strip to check it out, either online, in a book or — dare I imagine it — an actual newspaper.
1. Mr. Danders. Mr. Danders is the guinea pig that resides at Blisshaven Preschool, which young Alice Otterloop (ostensibly the strip’s main character due to her sheer force of will) attends. He’s easily the most erudite and sophisticated creature in the strip — not that it does him any good, being stuck in a cage all day and all. He’s a bit given to overstating his own importance and stretching the truth from time to time (the hermit crab next door dubs him a “resume-padder”). Still, he serves an important role at Blisshaven, “gweeping” encouragement to the students whenever possible. Not that they notice.
Despite the considerable critical backlash, DC Comics’ Before Watchmen line of titles has become one of this summer’s top sellers, and the publisher announced at Comic-Con International that it’s revisiting the classic Sandman in a prequel written by Neil Gaiman. With that in mind, I’ve come up with six other wells the company could return to for new projects. I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t, but given recent events this might be where fans, and DC, could look next.
As several people have already mentioned, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Love and Rockets, the seminal, groundbreaking comic series by Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez. It’s an impressive feat for any cartoonist to maintain a series for so long (even given the various format changes L&R has gone through) and it’s all the more impressive when you consider the number of masterpieces the Hernandez brothers have put under their collective belt during that time period. The Death of Speedy. Poison River. Human Diastrophism. Wig Wam Bam. Heartbreak Soup. The Love Bunglers. Most cartoonists would kill to produce just one of those books. And they’re still going strong with no drop in quality.
In honor of their anniversary I thought I’d take the time to list some of my own personal favorite sequences from the series. This is by no means to be a definitive list — there are so many outstanding moments from this series that trying to narrow it down a mere six is a bit of a mug’s game. These are merely six moments that immediately came to mind when I thought of the idea for this post. I could have come up with 100 more easily. All you Los Bros fans out there can feel free to list your own favorite moments in the comments section.
Oh, and lots of spoilers exist below, so if you haven’t read the series yet and want to jump into it fresh. I’d stop reading here …