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Comic Books

All articles with the "Comic Books" tag.

Published: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:53:45 -0400


The Fleeting Glory of Trump Magazine

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 06:00:00 -0400

TRUMP: The Complete Collection, edited by Denis Kitchen, Dark Horse Books, 184 pages, $29.99 Trump—the title of which, I feel compelled to point out, has nothing to do with the current POTUS—was an illustrated satirical magazine edited by Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman and published by Playboy's Hugh Hefner. Both men were young, very ambitious, and perhaps a little too idealistic. Thanks partly to a storm of unforeseen business woes that almost destroyed the Playboy empire and partly to Kurtzman and Hefner's generosity toward their contributors, the publication lasted for only two issues, one released in 1956 and the other in 1957. The result, on display in a new collection edited and annotated by Denis Kitchen, was a tragic might-have-been. Kurtzman is best known for founding Mad, which started out as a full-color comic book satirizing other comics. As one of only two staff editors at the EC Comics company, Kurtzman was expected to write every word of the titles he edited; prior to Mad he ran the imprint's war titles, which often featured anti-war messages. Thanks to his obsessive determination to get all his facts straight, he routinely fell into "research holes." Mad was supposed to be a relatively easy job for him, but he soon started obsessing over it too, especially as he started to run out of comic characters to spoof and began to expand his targets into the worlds of film, TV, advertising, and literature. Mad was a surprise hit, and it soon attracted attention from outside the marginalized, lowbrow comics world, with Kurtzman becoming a cause célèbre among humorists of all kinds. This, combined with a new industry-wide self-censorship policy (known as the Comics Code) that was threatening EC Comics' very existence, convinced Kurtzman to ask his publisher, William Gaines, to convert Mad from a kiddie comic to an adult humor magazine. Gaines agreed, and Mad became not just more popular than ever but, eventually, a cultural institution. All this sudden and unexpected attention went to Kurtzman's head, and he soon began making outrageous demands that the publisher wouldn't have agreed to under any circumstances, such as 51 percent ownership of Gaines' own company. But Kurtzman thought he had an ace in the hole: Hugh Hefner. Like most men of that era, Kurtzman was fascinated by Playboy, with its unprecedented mixture of pornography, high-end production values, and intellectual aspirations (or pretensions, take your pick). And Hefner, who had been an unsuccessful cartoonist, was equally fascinated by what Kurtzman was doing with Mad, specifically in the way he would deconstruct—in a very pre-postmodernist fashion—his targets. Kurtzman's commercial purpose was simply to mine humor from his subjects, but if in so doing he also revealed some heaping doses of hypocrisy and greed behind the mass media's messages, then so much the better. (It should be noted here that Kurtzman's parents were Communists. While he never shared their political beliefs, he certainly was raised to view American culture with a cynical eye.) This approach appealed to Hefner's own self-image as an observant Hip Outsider, and the two men were soon conspiring with each other to create a satirical publication that would put all others to shame, sparing no expense in the process. Content-wise, Trump wasn't much different than the early "adult" version of Mad that Kurtzman had only just started at EC. Kurtzman also took the cream of EC's stable of artists with him, primarily the incomparable threesome of Will Elder, Jack Davis, and Wally Wood, as well as a young Al Jaffee. (Wood quickly returned to Mad when he learned he wasn't allowed to work for both publications, while Davis and Jaffee were welcomed back after Trump folded. Jaffee still works there 60 years later.) What separated Trump from Mad was the former's determination to be a demonstrably "adult" publication, which meant it included (possibly at Hefner's insistence) a lot of semi-clad young women in the art; the only nod to modesty was a rule against exposed nipples. Mad, meanwhile, slip[...]

Slenderman Documentary Unpacks Disturbing Teen Murder Attempt

Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Beware the Slenderman. HBO. Monday, January 23, 10 p.m. Riverdale. The CW. Thursday, January 26, 9 p.m. Kids these days! Remember the good old days when the worst trouble a mischievous child could get into was maybe joining a killer sex cult or blowing herself up in a Greenwich Village bomb factory? Well, television this week is full of evidence that Dennis the Menace has left the building, probably armed with a hatchet and a pocket full of strap-ons. Actually, HBO's documentary Beware the Slenderman doesn't deserve such a flippant introduction. It's a serious—and seriously disturbing—piece of work about a pair of 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, inspired by a creepy internet meme, lured a friend into the woods after a birthday party and stabbed her 19 times. That she survived was no fault of theirs. The news of that 2014 attack on 12-year-old Payton Leutner by her supposed friends Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier was, for most American grown-ups, the first word they'd heard of Slenderman, a lanky, faceless character who for the past five years had been haunting Internet chatboards and campfire-story sites. In the beginning, Slenderman was nothing more than a shadowy and curiously disquieting image, digitally inserted into the periphery of family snapshots, usually eyeing or surrounded by children. But as he grew into a fad, inspiring fan fiction, homemade video games and a slew of "found-footage" videos modeled after The Blair Witch Project, the Slenderman myth acquired its own canon. He was said to abduct and murder little children in ominously unspecified ways. The victims were often unloved or neglected kids, giving the killings a somehow even more chilling penumbra of mercy. Slenderman was able to multiply his damage many times over by acquiring proxies, cult members to do his work. And practically anybody might be swept up in his machinations, as victim, proxy or both. "The moment you know about him, he knows about you," explains one Slenderman expert interviewed in Beware. Like millions of other kids, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier became fascinated by all things Slenderman. But unlike all the rest, they had trouble comprehending that he was imaginary. Perhaps social isolation was part of it; neither girl had many friends. (Though that begs the question, why turn on one of their few schoolmates who was a pal.) In any event, they plotted to qualify as proxies by murdering Peyton and fleeing to Slenderman's hidden kingdom in a nearby national park. In harrowingly matter-of-fact confessions to police later, they described how they first tried to convince their victim to go to sleep to avoid unnecessary confusion and noise. ("I don't like screaming," Anissa primly declared to the cops. "That's one thing I can't handle.") When that didn't work, they banged her head against the wall of a park restroom in an attempt to knock her unconscious. Finally they jumped her from behind ("like lionesses chasing down a zebra," bragged Anissa) and Morgan stabbed her 19 times. "I trusted you," murmured Peyton as they dragged her into the bushes to die. Which, miraculously, she didn't. Despite its title, Beware the Slenderman is not a call to moral panic. Writer-director Irene Taylor Brodsky, a CBS News producer before she turned to documentaries a decade ago, steers clear of both tabloid shrieking and babble. Neither the internet nor horror culture is demonized as an assassin of juvenile morality. Morgan's mother, noting that at the same age she was a big fan of Stephen King's It, a novel in which a group of children is terrorized by a killer clown, says she was aware of her daughter's fascination with Slenderman but thought nothing of it: "We never thought for a moment that she could believe that it's real." And though there's understandably a good bit of blue-sky psychological theorizing about what could possibly have turned a couple of cossetted suburban 12-year-olds homicidal, Brodsky always steers it back to basics. As one doctor notes, talk of childhood schizophrenia and adolescent delusions is fin[...]

Why Clinton Cash: The Graphic Novel Topped the Charts and Got Millennials' Attention

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 13:45:00 -0400

(image) Comic-book artist Brett Smith has drawn some of the biggest names in the Marvel and DC universes—The Hulk, Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Thor, and others—but Bill and Hillary Clinton top his list of all-time supervillains.

In August, Smith and comics writer Chuck Dixon (he helped create Batman's nemesis Bane, among many other characters) published Clinton Cash: The Graphic Novel, which is based on Peter Schweizer's expose of the Clinton Family Foundation and Hillary Clinton's actions as secretary of state. Like its inspiration, Clinton Cash: The Graphic Novel rocketed to the top of The New York Times' best-seller list, a success that Smith attributes to the humorous, four-color depiction of just how awful he says the Clintons really are.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Smith explains the convoluted ways he says the Clinton Foundation funneled money to the former—and likely future—First Family of America; why he thinks Donald Trump is more than a neo-protectionist xenophobe; and what it's like to be conservative-with-libertarian tendencies in a creative field like graphic illustration.

Smith also expounds upon the concept of "political punks" whom he says evoke the brash anti-establishmentarianism of the music scene of the late '70s in today's political scene. Ann Coulter, Greg Gutfeld, Clint Eastwood, and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, says Smith, personify the type. Political Punks is also the name of a podcast that he co-hosts with writer Lisa De Pasquale (I appeared on Political Punks in January of this year. Listen to the episode here).

Listen to the Reason podcast with Brett Smith by clicking below. Follow him on Twitter here.

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"Let people do what they want with their own bodies and property": Q&A with Todd Seavey

Tue, 07 Jun 2016 09:30:00 -0400

"The experience of having everybody around me on campus say the left is the way to go and then...seeing communism collapse made me think maybe the libertarians have a better handle on how these things work," says Todd Seavey, author of the new book Libertarianism for Beginners. "While the Soviet Union existed, the Marxists on campus were rooting for the Soviet Union."

A New York-baseed comic-book writer, one-time producer for TV's own John Stossel, and a contributor to Splice Today, Seavey found his way toward libertarianism while attending Brown University in the late 1980s.

His new graphic book, Libertarianism for Beginners, argues that the core message of libertarians is to "keep the government small and let people do what they want with their own bodies and property."

About 6 minutes.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Todd Krainin and Joshua Swain. Edited by Swain. Additional editing by Ian Keyser.

Scroll below for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Peter Suderman on How the Widescreen Comics Movement Paved the Way for the Era of Superhero Movies

Mon, 16 May 2016 16:40:00 -0400

(image) My latest Vox column looks at how the widescreen comics movement that started in the late 1990s helped make comic books bigger, more epic, and more cinematic—and paved the way for the era of superhero movies we live in today. 

Here's how it starts: 

In most tellings, the current age of superhero movies began in earnest in 2000, with Bryan Singer’s X-Men. That relatively modest film, built around a pair of classically trained Brits and an Australian actor with a background in musical theater, proved that audiences would turn out for reasonably faithful adaptations of classic comic book stories. And it set in motion a new wave of superhero films — from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy to Marvel's ever-expanding catalog of Avengers and Avengers-adjacent blockbusters, not to mention a host of less-successful efforts.

These days, hardly a month goes by without a major superhero release, and studios are betting their entire future on an ever-growing number of comic book movie universes.

Of course, while that history of the modern superhero movie isn’t wrong, it largely ignores the role of comic books themselves, which over the years have served as a sort of testing ground for the types of storytelling devices and thematic questions that now dominate both the box office and the public’s pop-culture conversation.

In particular, it glosses over a strain that emerged in the late 1990s that became known as "widescreen comics." Widescreen comics were a reaction to the talky, cartoony superhero comics of the 1990s, many of which were mired in a kind of second-rate '70s revivalism, and which often had more in common with soap operas and professional wrestling than with epic Hollywood tentpoles.

They were drawn to mimic big-screen visuals, with wide panels that looked like movie-theater screens. The essential idea was to emphasize grand spectacle and visual storytelling, to insist that comic book creators should take advantage of their "unlimited budgets" — as afforded by the fact that comic book action was illustrated on the page, not CGI'd on the screen — to create show-stopping action that Hollywood, due to the limitations of finances and effects technology, could never afford to produce.

 Read the whole thing

Peter Suderman on How Frank Miller Redefined Batman

Tue, 29 Mar 2016 14:40:00 -0400

(image) Did you see Batman v. Superman over the weekend? If so, I'm sorry.

It's a bloated, incoherent mess of a movie, and it totally wastes the potential of both its premise and the comic-book material that helped inspire it, Frank Miller's 1986 comic book The Dark Knight Returns.

No, BvS is not a direct adaptation of Miller's graphic novel, but it draws heavily from his book in terms of both visuals and dialogue, particularly during the big showdown between the two title characters. Miller's version of that battle is one of the great fights in comic book history, and, it's basically structured as an argument about the nature of superheroes. All that is totally lost in Zack Snyder's lumbering, under-developed big-screen adaptation. 

Of course, over the years, Miller also lost the plot when it comes to Batman, turning him into something that plays more like a parody of a Miller character.

All of this the subject of my Vox column this week, which looks at the way that Miller helped create Batman as we know him today, and how he eventually fouled up the character he helped define. Here's a sample: 

Batman v Superman is not even a loose adaptation of Miller’s book, but as Snyder said on the Comic-Con stage, "It is the thing that helps tell that story." Imagery and dialogue lifted directly from Miller’s graphic novel appear throughout the movie, and were prominent in its advertising as well. It is safe to say that without The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman v Superman wouldn’t exist.

The influence of Miller’s Dark Knight, however, extends far beyond this one movie. The four-issue comic permanently redefined the character of Batman, and is arguably responsible for making him the pop culture sensation he is today. Today’s Batman, from Christopher Nolan’s austere Dark Knight to the gothic hero of Scott Snyder’s contemporary Batman comics, is inseparable from Miller’s vision of Batman and, in some sense, from Miller himself.

But in the years since Dark Knight, Miller has continued to work with both the character and the brooding sensibility, with increasingly unpleasant results. And in the process, he has squandered much of what made the original so great. Miller gave us the best Batman — and the worst one, too.

Read the whole thing here

Peter Suderman on Deadpool, Blade, and Superhero Movies

Wed, 17 Feb 2016 13:01:00 -0500

(image) Deadpool, an outrageous, over-the-top, defiantly vulgar movie about Marvel Comics' wise-cracking, foul-mouthed mercenary hero, made a killing at the box office this weekend, smashing multiple records, including biggest opening for an R-rated film ever (a record previously held by The Matrix Reloaded).

Depending on how it holds up over the next few weeks, it could become the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. 

Naturally, there's already a move to copy its most identifiable difference from contemporary superhero movie tradition: its R-rating.

A sequel has already been given the greenlight, and Fox, which owns the rights to the X-Men franchise that Deadpool is part of, has already indicated that the next solo Wolverine film, due next year, will also be rated R. Don't be surprised if you see a lot more R-rated superhero films put in the pipeline. 

In some ways it's a little surprising that it took this long for studios to figure out that there's a market for R-rated hero films. After all, as I note in my column for Vox this week, one of the earliest films of the modern superhero era was Blade, an R-rated take on one of Marvel's grittier, less-known characters. Here's a snippet

Deadpool’s clearest divergence from the mainstays of the superhero film comes from its R rating, which is uncommon in a genre that tends to stay pretty strictly within the maximally accessible bounds of the PG-13 rating. And that in itself is a reminder that part of the genesis of the modern wave of superhero films was in an R-rated comic book adaptation: Blade.

Released in August of 1998, Blade wasn’t sold as a comic book movie so much as an effects-driven supernatural action film and a star vehicle for the particular talents of its lead actor, Wesley Snipes. And why would it have been?

Aside from the struggling Batman franchise, which at the time was plumbing the depths of cornball irony under the direction of Joel Schumacher, superhero movies weren’t really a going concern in Hollywood. Rumors of big-budget comic-based films had circulated for years (James Cameron even wrote a script for a Spider-Man movie), but by the late '90s, comic books themselves increasingly looked like a fad that had passed. The comic book sales bubble that peaked earlier in the decade had popped, with newsstand sales effectively nil and the entire market reduced to a relatively small number of specialty shops. Less than two years earlier, at the end of 1996, Marvel Comics, where the Blade character originated, had filed for bankruptcy.

Read the whole thing. 

Supergirl Has a Libertarian Main Villain, and He’s Pretty Interesting

Tue, 02 Feb 2016 12:40:00 -0500

Warning: This blog post spoils plot points from Monday night's episode of Supergirl (as well as several previous episodes). Supergirl represents CBS's efforts to wade into the superhero serial drama that is dominating both television and blockbuster films. It's the first of these hero shows from the DC Comics universe with a female protagonist, and, yes, it "leans in" to the feminism in ways that are sometimes effective, sometimes corny. "Sometimes effective, sometimes corny" is actually a good capsule review of the series after 12 episodes. It is entertaining, but often uneven (compared to more confident shows from the DC universe like Arrow and The Flash) and the dialogue is often lackluster. The solid acting tends to elevate the worst of the writing. For casual viewers the show can seem like a young adult, gender-swapped knock-off of Superman. She fights a lot of space aliens. There's another crop of evil Kryptonians attempting to cause mayhem. There's a definite familiarity of style. The show has its own version of Lex Luthor in the guise of Maxwell Lord (played by Peter Facinelli). Lord is a wealthy industrialist-inventor very much in the Tony Stark/Iron Man vein. He's also a hardcore libertarian who could have stepped right out of an Ayn Rand novel—he built a high-speed train, apparently without government subsidies. He is deeply distrustful and critical of government, explaining early in the series that his scientist parents died while following government-approved safety procedures that turned out to be inadequate. He doesn't trust Supergirl and doesn't think people should rely on her to keep them safe (the television show is tied to the most recent Superman movie, and Lord takes note of the tremendous destruction Superman's fighting caused in Metropolis). As of Monday's episode, Lord is also certainly the primary antagonist of the season.  He experimented on a comatose young woman to give her the same powers as Supergirl—a "bizarro" version of the heroine, in a variation on the comic book version—and the two women fought. He also uncovered Supergirl's real identity and her foster family. As a result, Supergirl's foster sister Alex Danvers, a special agent in a secretive government organization that addresses threats from aliens, "arrested" Lord with no actual warrant and no real authority, and dragged him off into a secret detention facility with no legal representation. The show does not ignore the ramifications of this move like it might have decades ago. Lord, stuck in a high-tech prison cell, notes, "Holding people indefinitely against their will; can't get more American than that." Once it became clear that Lord was heavily influenced by libertarian and objectivist ideologies, I decided to keep an eye on the show to see how he developed. It wasn't clear at first whether he was going to become a full-on villain or more of a critical antagonist who wasn't necessarily evil (in the comics Lord has gone back and forth between heroic and villainous attitudes). I also wanted to see how the show represented Lord's beliefs—did the writers understand the underlying concepts of libertarian thought? If Lord became a villain, would it be portrayed as an indictment of libertarianism itself or would it be driven by Lord's personality? After watching the trajectory of Lord's development into a nemesis, I'm actually a bit surprised at the nuance on display (mostly because of the generally unsubtle writing). Lord has all the signs of a complex, interesting villain. The show doesn't paint his criticism and skepticism of government itself as wrong. Characters who disagree with his attitude are also heavily connected to the government, like Supergirl's sister, and not exactly dispassionate observers. Rather, what makes Lord a villain is how he acts in response to his ideology, which ultimately corrupts his own argument. There'[...]

Iceman’s Gay, Thor’s a Lady, and Captain America’s Black: The Constant Culture Shifts of Comics Continue

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 16:10:00 -0500

It looks like it took Robert Drake 50 years and several girlfriends to figure out he was gay. Fortunately for him, because he’s comic book superhero, he’s nevertheless young enough to still get to sow his wild oats. As had been hinted in a comic book a couple of months ago, Drake, also known as Iceman, one of the original X-Men, is gay. There was not a lot of build up to it. There weren’t really hints that Drake questioned his own sexuality throughout his comic history, though there was some fan speculation based on the fact of his troubled history with girlfriends (I always found that an odd argument because every male hero who is not married has troubled histories with girlfriends). Well, there was that time he had a romantic interest who suddenly turned herself into a man. But then it turned out she was actually a sentient nebula who had taken on the form of two humans injured in a car accident. It happens. In any event, those who have read Marvel comics all their lives know full well that Iceman was neither conceived nor written for decades with the idea that he was gay, regardless whether he openly acknowledged it or acted on it. Even his appearances in the recent X-Men movies seem to be written with the idea that he’s heterosexual. But now he’s gay, confirmed in this week’s Uncanny X-Men No. 600. In comic book fashion he is forced to confront his sexuality by a teen version who himself who has been sucked into modern day (also the teen version himself was forced to confront his sexuality by the teen version of telepath Jean Grey, who read his mind). The retcon (that’s comic speak for “retroactive continuity”—storytelling that alters previously established history) explanation is that Drake decided to suppress dealing with his homosexuality because he had too much other crap to deal with. That this decision is transparently a choice to fundamentally alter who Drake is for the sake of diversity has both its supporters and its critics. Marvel has actually been introducing gay characters to the comics for years now (as has competitor D.C.). Over time, though, casts of these comic companies have bloated to massive numbers, and it’s difficult for new characters to gain traction and develop fan bases. Periodically, the complexity of the stories and casts gets so large that the comic companies plan out major stories to serve as resets or reboots, clearing a lot of the past storytelling away and setting a new status quo. Marvel is in the middle of doing such a thing right now with a miniseries called Secret Wars. The issue of the X-Men in which Drake is revealed as gay is the final issue of that volume. All the old X-Men-related titles have ended and a new set of series are being launched. It’s happening all over the Marvel universe, and it’s not just Iceman seeing changes. Thor has recently lost his hammer, and it has been picked up by occasional romantic interest Jane Foster. Captain America is no longer blond bohunk Steve Rogers. Former sidekick Sam Wilson, who is African American, has taken his place, abandoning his codename of Falcon. Ms. Marvel is now the name used by Muslim Pakistani-American teen Kamala Khan. It’s easy to dismiss this all as a marketing ploy. Well, yes, it is, but superhero comics are a popular culture form of entertainment that partly lives or dies based on successfully understanding its audience and marketing to them. And it’s absolutely not new. Marvel has made gestures toward cultural diversity for ages. Comic fans know full well that part of the metaphor of the X-Men—mutants whose powers originate from genetic abnormalities—was about cultural diversity, civil rights, and fear of the “other.” The original Ms. Marvel herself, introduced in the 1970s, was clearly a nod toward the feminist movement of that era. When I first started collecting co[...]

Superman vs. the Cops

Sun, 01 Nov 2015 12:00:00 -0500

(image) In the summer arc for Action Comics, the long-running Superman title, the Man of Steel takes on the heavily armed police force of his fictional home city of Metropolis as the officers advance on his quiet neighborhood. The story, which builds to a dramatic showdown between armored cops and angry local residents, relies on visuals reminiscent of the August 2014 standoff between cops and protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of an unarmed black man there.

In Action Comics 41 and 42, a no-longer-invulnerable Superman is called back to Metropolis to stop an attack by an oversized superbeast. He arrives to find that law enforcement, armed with body armor, riot shields, and military transport vehicles, has begun transforming the city into a police state, forcing residents to submit to a battery of tests for alien particles.

With Superman distracted by the beast, the cops move toward his recently gentrified block. A standoff ensues, and nearly leads to violence-until Superman arrives to break it up by reminding everyone that he's what connects them all. It's a corny, earnest tribute to urban community that elides the real issues of police militarization, use of force, and cop-community relations that helped spark the Ferguson protests it so clearly alludes to.

Peter Suderman Reviews Ant-Man

Thu, 16 Jul 2015 17:40:00 -0400

(image) I thought Ant-Man was okay, but there were a few things that, um, bugged me. Here's the opening to my review... 

When Marvel announced a few years back that it was finally going into production with a big-budget movie based on its decidedly not-so-big superhero, “Ant-Man,” the response, at least from those who are not longtime comic book readers, was more than a little confused.

Ant-Man? Why Ant-Man?

Marvel’s other big-screen hits may have been somewhat unlikely, but you could always see the case for the multiplex treatment: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor were all, in their own way, iconic characters, well-recognized, even if not always well-read, outside of the comic-geek niche.

And with four of them in play, it was possible to set up a team-up movie, “The Avengers,” which, of course, went on to become a massive hit as well as one of the most beloved blockbusters in recent memory.

Even the intergalactic weirdos of “Guardians of the Galaxy” made a certain kind of sense: They provided an entry point into Marvel’s vast cast of cosmic characters; besides, the movie itself was just “Star Wars” in superhero drag.

But what about Ant-Man? He’s barely known, even in this era of Wikipedia-fueled comic-book completism, and he’s hardly anyone’s favorite hero. What could a guy who wears a suit that makes him small and allows him to control ants — seriously, ants — bring to Marvel’s never-ending comic-book movie party?

The only possible reason for making the movie was the involvement of writer-director Edgar Wright, the mind behind genre comedy classics “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.”

But Mr. Wright left before the movie got off the ground.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m afraid I still don’t know what Marvel saw in Ant-Man post-Wright, and I’m not sure the maestros behind Hollywood’s most successful interconnected universe know either.

Read the complete review in The Washington Times. 

Peter Suderman Reviews Avengers: Age of Ultron

Thu, 30 Apr 2015 17:21:00 -0400

Marvel's latest superhero megamovie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is set to smash all sorts of box office records this weekend, surpassing even the super-earnings of its predecessor. I enjoyed the new one, but in general I think it's weaker than the first film, which, despite being a multi-movie crossover event, maintained a clarity and a light touch that this one just can't quite manage. From my review: ‘The Avengers” was not only one of the most successful blockbusters in years, but it was also one of the best. Writer-director Joss Whedon, the geek auteur behind television’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” delivered a film that balanced, with almost superhuman ability, the franchise’s need for mammoth spectacle on one hand and careful character-building on the other. It was a movie that demonstrated that it understood its cast of iconic comic book characters just as well as anyone in the audience, and that it cared about them in the same ways — and with the same intensity — that lifelong fans did. Yet it was also easily accessible and enjoyable for those not steeped in Marvel Comics lore. It was a perfect summer blockbuster and a perfect comic book movie at the same time. The sequel, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” once again written and directed by Mr. Whedon, shows a similar regard for its characters and an equal zeal for effects-driven destructive spectacle, but it has a harder time balancing its many imperatives. Like its predecessor, “Age of Ultron” is alternately intimate and bombastic, funny and thrilling, with grand action sequences punctuated by genuine laughs. Many of the scenes showcase Mr. Whedon’s ear for zippy, character-defining dialogue. With his TV background, his heavy reliance on quippy back-and-forths and his frequent use of scene-capping monologues, Mr. Whedon sometimes comes across as the Aaron Sorkin of the superhero set. Read the complete review in The Washington Times.  Something I mentioned in my review but didn't really get to discuss is how overloaded the movie is with super-characters. In addition to the four Avengers heroes who have starred in their own films (Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man), and the S.H.I.E.L.D. characters (Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury), who have been in previous Marvel movies, the movie introduces three more super-characters (The Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch) and two new villains (Ultron, and another character who I won't reveal but who will appear more prominently in a future Marvel movie). We're only two event-films in, and we're already approaching the point of overload. It's really a lot to follow, and a lot to manage, even if you've seen all 10 of the previous Marvel movies, and kept an eye on Marvel's primary Avengers tie-in TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And if you haven't, you're virtually certain to be totally lost. The opening sequence is an extended battle against a horde of Hydra agents led by Baron von Strucker, neither of whom the script makes any attempt to identify. Hydra has appeared in several Marvel films before, but wasn't in the last Avengers movie. Von Strucker, meanwhile, has only previously appeared in a single 90-second bit during the credits sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So if you haven't seen the last Captain America movie, or even if you did, but you left when the credits started to roll, you're not going to know what's going on.  On the one hand, this suggests a fairly high degree of respect for the audience's ability to follow complicated continuity, and it's a victory of sorts for the sort of sprawling, complex, multi-threaded storytelling that moviemakers used to assume that audiences were far too dumb to grasp. On the other hand, I do [...]

Reason's Peter Bagge Gets His Words Celebrated, Immortalized in New Book Peter Bagge: Conversations

Thu, 23 Apr 2015 20:01:00 -0400

Academia finally takes notice and pays homage: Reason's graphic journalist/contributing editor Peter Bagge, one of the finest American cartoonists and writers of our time, gets over a dozen of his interviews ranging from 1988 to 2014 immortalized between hard covers by the University Press of Mississippi.


The book is edited by Kent Worcester, and called Peter Bagge: Conversations.

One of the interviews was conducted, proudly, by yours truly and published in the lamented zine Ben is Dead back in 1997. I can remember the pleasure and pride of getting to meet the mighty Mr. Bagge in his own studio to this day. Soon, my lucky cup runnething over, I was issuing a 7" by his band the Action Suits on my record label Cherry Smash, and soon after that he began his long, storied career of commenting and reporting on everything from the Libertarian Party to attempts to unionize community college instructors in the pages of Reason.

Peter is charming, smart, a true supermensch and one of the great voices for libertarianism in popular culture. I highly recommend this book as the next best thing to having him sitting across a table telling you what's what.

The book's Amazon page, and its University Press of Mississippi catalog page.

Peter's Reason contributions.

How Netflix’s New Daredevil Series Makes Torture Into a Virtue

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:30:00 -0400

The Daredevil series on Netflix is about how one man, alone and with right in his heart, can change a city for the better using only one weapon: torture. Politically the Daredevil series, based on the long-running Marvel comic about a blind superhero whose alter-ego is a criminal defense lawyer named Matt Murdock, is a casual mess—a melange of half-digested, not especially coherent liberal and conservative talking points thrown together almost at random.  The series' working-class Hispanics living in rent-controlled apartments under threat from evil developers is a basic lefty meme. The all-consuming corruption of government institutions, from politicians to police, is borrowed from libertarian or right-wing distrust of government. The Kingpin—a powerful crime boss and one of Daredevil's arch enemies—is a villain to liberals because he's super-rich. He's a villain to conservatives because he's a dreamy and hypocritical help-the-poor idealist. In short, there's a reason for people of every political persuasion to be flattered or irritated, as long as no one thinks about it too hard. But amidst the ideological confusion, the one consistent value is torture. To unravel the Kingpin's web of corruption, Daredevil resorts again and again to threats and violent interrogation.  Most of this involves straightforward thuggish brutality. Daredevil (Charlie Cox) asks a question, then hits or kicks the poor schmo who isn't talking. Sometimes the torture is more elaborate, with Daredevil using his ninja fighting skills to break limbs or snap bones. And at least one incident involves elaborate, prepared interrogation techniques. In what is probably a crib from the seminal Batman comic The Dark Knight Returns, which was written by influential comics scribe Frank Miller shortly after he wrote a similarly character-defining run on Daredevil, our hero drags his victim up onto the roof, ties him up, and then takes advice from his nurse friend Claire (Rosario Dawson) on how to use a blade to inflict unbearable pain. On the TV series 24, torture is necessitated by the ticking clock. Harsh measures are underwritten by the certainty and imminence of terrorist apocalypse. Daredevil doesn't even bother with such shilly-shallying justifications.  The show spends a lot of moral energy worrying about whether or not Daredevil/Matt Murdock will or won't commit murder. But violence short of actually killing someone is barely even greeted with a shrug. Claire, the nurse, has no compunction about using her medical knowledge in the service of torture, and the show doesn't even seem to realize that anyone might have such reservations. Daredevil doesn't torture any women—only the bad guys do that—but he cheerfully beats a 73-year-old man, a junkie who's barely able to stand, and various men who pose no immediate threat to the hero or anyone else. There's no time-bomb scenario—torture is just what heroes do. Daredevil even tortures one guy in order to find a new tailor. Superheroes strong-arming villains goes back to early Superman and the beginning of the genre. But it's unusually central in the Netflix series, where it's arguably Daredevil's main power. His super-enhanced senses allow him to detect increased heartbeats and therefore tell when people are lying. Coupled with judicious use of torture, Daredevil becomes a human lie-detector; an avatar of truth burning through the layers of shadows and falsehoods in which the Kingpin conceals his machinations. You could argue, perhaps, that Daredevil's torture has little relevance to debates about government torture. Daredevil, after all, is not a federal agent nor a cop. But even if Daredevil is not an agent of the sta[...]

Taking Comics to the People

Sun, 19 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0400

"Any time you don't have to ask permission is awesome. And now you don't," says Jason McNamara, an award-winning graphic novelist based in northern California. Mc­Namara is just one of many in the comics community turning away from traditional publishing and toward digital platforms like Kickstarter and comiXology to finance and publish their work.

It's a strategy that worked well for McNamara's last release, The Rattler, a graphic novel he co-created with Los Angeles artist Greg Hinkle. The writer launched a campaign through Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding website that lets potential customers contribute money to help get creative or business projects off the ground. His goal was to raise $4,600 to publish the book; he ended up collecting pledges worth more than three times that amount from 390 different backers. "By going through Kickstarter first, we could get a real idea of what the interest is for this book," McNamara says. "There is an element of entrepreneurship and there's a gamble that appeals to people. In Kickstarter, I've had better conversations with [fans] than I've had over the past 10 years of doing conventions."

The emergence of crowdfunding sites has provided fans with a more diverse selection of comics by allowing creators such as McNamara to sidestep editorial gatekeepers and bring their art directly to consumers. Before online platforms like Kickstarter came along, graphic novelists essentially had two choices: work with Diamond Comic Distribu­tors-a company that boasts exclusive arrangements with most American comic publishers and stores-or publish, fold, and staple your books yourself, hoping you'll be able to sell them in person at events.

"In order to get in the comic shops you had to go through Diamond. They do have a monopoly in the comics community," explains Matt Silady, chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Comics program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. "Diamond does a lot of great things for retailing, but they also have a business model that requires you to have a certain number of pre-orders for you to even be considered as part of their catalog. If you're not in that catalog, nobody is seeing your work."

Now artists and writers can showcase their offerings on a variety of websites and speak directly to fans without sacrificing artistic integrity or ownership.

"Diamond will turn a lot of stuff down based on whether they think it's worth it to them," says McNamara. "You have to appeal to their taste and what they think. But comiXology is more open…Kickstarter-there is no barrier of entry. Which is great, because if you want to make comic books, no one is saying 'no' to you anymore. You just have to find the right platform."

As more creators look online to publish their work, consumers are also embracing the digital marketplace. Comic book sales broke industry records in 2014, with digital comics contributing an estimated $90 million in sales, according to the most recent numbers published by IcV2, a news and data source that serves pop culture retailers. The rise of these digital platforms has only helped to expand readership-which has led to bigger profits in the comics industry and a reported 4 percent increase in the number of brick-and-mortar comic book retailers.

"Overall, comics is healthier than ever as an art form," says Silady. "There's nothing more exciting than the traditional barriers falling away and someone having art, showing it, and being able to put it out there without having to compromise."

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