Category Archives: Comics

Love and Fear: Comics Covers

First love, courtesy of John Romita — but seriously Janice, you can do better than this jerk.Then some terror, courtesy of Mort Drucker.And more terror, this time from Steve Ditko.

Cosmic terror as Gene Colan catches Dr. Strange fighting to save reality.And a somber finish, art by Mike Sekowsky.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Some comics covers for Tuesday

First a couple of John Romita’s romance covers. Ruben Moreira shows why doing jigsaws is a dangerous pastime.Mike Sekowsky mourns the deaths of DC’s Metal Men.Dick Dillin gives us an unusual courtroom scene.And Barry Windsor Smith gives us Conan in a scene from “The God in the Bowl.”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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2020: not my most productive year

And I can’t even blame the pandemic: after all, I was working at home long before the Trump Virus made it a life-saving option. TYG working from home has in some ways made my work easier, as I don’t have dogs all day. I do, however, get randomly called to take over dog-car for her when she gets busy or Plushie gets fidgety, but it’s still mostly a win.

Nevertheless, I didn’t get anywhere near as much done as I’d anticipated. Partly that’s because pandemic stress did slow me down the first two or three months. Plus Undead Sexist Cliches took much more time to complete than I’d planned (Which is typical. Nonfiction always eats into my fiction-writing time). Redrafting Impossible Takes a Little Longer did too — so much more that I didn’t get beyond four chapters in, though they’re much better chapters. I finished two short stories, submitted shorts 27 times, and sold three (two of them reprints), none of which met my goals. And I fell just a few hundred dollars short of my income goal for the year, due to Leaf work stopping in early December. But I did finish Undead Sexist Cliches, and I’m almost done with Questionable Minds; I’d wanted them finished and published, but I’m still pleased to know they will be done soon.

Plans for travel and for local social events didn’t happen, obviously. Neither did a lot of my personal goals for doing stuff with TYG: she had some ultra-demanding personal projects going on the first couple of months of 2020 and by the time they wrapped up, we were hunkering down at home. The brightest spot of the year for us, though, was her working from home and discovering she not only liked it, she could be more productive even when dealing with dogs. So she’s not going back. It’s much less stress for her, no time spent driving to work, and having added help with the dogs is easier for me.

I donated more money this year, and contributed regularly to a local food bank. Didn’t do as much to contribute to the commonweal as I’d intended to, even so; I’ll work on doing more in 2021.

Wisp was a big success. She’s gone from occasionally coming in the door to eat and get petting to coming in and snuggling on the couch. Last weekend we brought her in late in the evening and left her downstairs all night; I wasn’t sure she’d be happy with that, but it turned out fine. We’re still some ways from making her a permanent indoor cat (we’d like to do that — much safer for the birds) but maybe it’s not as impossible as I was starting to think. In any case, she’s definitely part of our family now: like Plushie and Trixie she has her own Christmas ornament.

And I did accomplish two personal goals. In 2019 I got out of the habit of baking bread regularly so I set myself a goal for 2020 of baking at least twice a month (including muffins and scones). I succeeded. And for the first time since moving up here—okay, and a long time before that—I cleared all the new books out of my to be read shelf. Yes, I know, that just means I’m not buying enough books, but seriously, having a book sit on my shelves for three years before I get to it just annoys me. We’ll see if I can keep up in 2021. Total books read, 214, if you’re wondering, including about 40 percent graphic novels.

Despite the disappointments—all those submissions and only one new story sold?—this was overall a good year for me. Even with all the things I missed, like visiting my family and friends in Florida, it turns out TYG, writing and our pets can keep me pretty happy.

Still I’m ready for the vaccine, though it’ll be a while before TYG or I get a dose. Ready for Trump to be gone. Ready for 2021.

#SFWApro.

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Filed under Comics, Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Reading, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The deadly perils of Christmas!

Santa Claus may not be what’s coming to town!

If you don’t see the threat, you’re part of the decorations!

So like Santa says, you’d better watch out!

#SFWApro. Covers by Nick Cardy, all rights remain with current holder.

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The Joker, Jack the Ripper and the KKK, plus Oz! Books

THE THREE JOKERS by Geoff Johns and Jason Fabok is the payoff to a bizarre reveal from Johns’ Darkseid War arc, that the Joker is actually three different people, something the World’s Greatest Detective never noticed before. Now the trio of Criminal (Golden Age Joker), Clown (the one murdered Jason Todd) and Comedian (The Killing Joke version) are united to pull off their master stroke against Batman — but what is it?

I’ll have a detailed post up at Atomic Junkshop tomorrow on what an illogical, pointless trainwreck this book is, so I won’t go into detail. The greatest flaw for me is that there’s no real difference between the three (the Clown beating Jason Todd to death and the Comedian crippling Barbara Gordon aren’t as sharply distinct as the story claims). All three Jokers conform to the Bat-books’ current (and stupid) take on the Joker as someone who has no purpose in life other than hurting Batman; the Golden Age Joker was nothing like that so why not contrast them? Not that I ever expected this idea to pay off well.

WITCHFINDER: Reign of Darkness by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson and Christopher Mitten has Sir Edward Grey hunting down Jack the Ripper, convinced it’s a former adversary of his. When his initial efforts to prove it don’t pan out, Scotland Yard stops listening, but Grey won’t quit; eventually he discovers a conspiracy involving the Heliotropic Brotherhood of Ra. A good story, introducing Grey to Sarah Jewell, who previously appeared in the chronologically later Rise of the Black Flame.

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru adapts a serial from the 1940s Superman radio show (Yang says in the afterword he was fascinated as a kid to learn there’d been prominent Chinese characters in an old Superman story). Young Chinese-American Roberta Lee is the viewpoint character for much of the book, watching uneasily as she and her family move into a white Metropolis suburb, enraging the Klan of the Fiery Cross, hence the symbol they get on their lawn. Clark Kent and Lois Lane, not to mention Superman, are on the case, but Superman’s also been dealing with unnerving memories of his origins ever since he battled the kryptonite-powered villain Atom Man (another character from radio).

Yang does the best job I’ve seen with the idea of Superman as an immigrant, hiding the scope of his powers (e.g., that he can fly rather than leap, and can shoot heat rays out of his eyes) so that he won’t be too alien for Earth. The whole book is a winner.

MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren McGraw (illustrations by Dick Martin) was the fortieth and last of the original Oz series, which L. Frank Baum’s publisher continued after his passing. It’s easily the best of the post-Baum books; where many of the earlier ones would pad space by having characters wander from one  weird city or kingdom to the next, the McGraws actually have a strong plot (they do have little kingdoms such as View Halloo and Good Children Land, but they don’t let them suck up too much space). A party from the knightly realm of Halidom sets off to seek three missing magical McGuffins; a boy from Oregon lands in Oz alongside a magically animated roundabout horse (the mystery man who sends him to Oz is one plot hole I wish the authors had resolved); and Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion get lost on the way home to the Emerald City after a visit to the Easter Bunny. Needless to say, everyone meets up and the various quests all turn out interlinked. I’s great fun if you like Oz, and I love the world-weary voice of the Cowardly Lion as he confronts yet another peril.#SFWApro. Images by Jerry Robinson, Gurihiru and Dick Martin, all rights remain with current holder.

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Do you know it’s Christmas after all?

Nothing much to say this morning. Life’s been quiet. Pups and Wisp have been good. So in lieu of personal news, here’s a great Neal Adams image from Batman #219.Batman spends the night at police headquarters singing Christmas carols. But the spirit of Christmas — and of Batman — continue keeping Gotham safe. You can find the details here. It’s a great little story, written by Mike Friedrich.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Love, passion and crime: non specfic cover art

Mitchell Hooks depicts a searing story of Abnormal Love (incest, in case you were wondering).Hooks again. Nothing says primitive passion like painting your toenails, am I right?Elemental and untamed! Cover by Gerald PowellGerald Gregg gives a neat cover image for what’s undoubtedly an outdated story about the evils of the marijuana trade!An uncredited but vivid one.And a John Romita romance cover. Love how well he catches the expression on the redheaded minx.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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A whole bunch of superheroes: books

I enjoyed WONDER WOMAN: Earth One enough to be optimistic for WONDER WOMAN: Earth OneVolume Two, by the same creative team (Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette). More so because the idea of using Dr. Psycho as a modern-day misogynist is exactly what I’d like to see done with the character. The results, however, disappointed me, partly because Psycho seems like a fairly generic manipulator, though a sexist one. A bigger problem is that the book feels like an installment rather than a standalone, which is fine in a single-issue comic book but not in a graphic novel. Psycho is almost a subplot, with the focus on Aryan superwoman Paula von Gunther, who attacks the Amazons in WW II, gets subjugated, but eventually strikes again. And that’s just set up for a looming war to take place in V3. Not bad, but not as good as I wanted.

So back in 1938, when world champion heavyweight Joe Louis squared off against the German boxer Schmeling, what if the Nazis had given Schmeling a super-steroid to make him invincible and cinch victory? That was the original spark for Charles Saunders’ DAMBALLA, in which the title vigilante takes time out from cleaning up crime in Harlem to ensure the champ gets a fair shot at defending his title. Very reminiscent of the Shadow in style, but not just a copy — everything from Damballa’s African roots to the setting makes this stand on its own. A real shame that with Saunders passing earlier this year we won’t get to see a sequel.

AVENGERS: Behold the Vision by Roy Thomas and multiple artists shows Thomas’ writing improving since the Master of Evil collection, but it’s still frustrating. On the one hand we have a great Kang plotline, the debut of the Vision, the debut of Ultron and an excellent story about the Sons of the Serpent (anti-immigrant white supremacists, media pundits whipping the public up in rage — it hasn’t aged at all). On the other hand we have some really dumb patches of writing, such as one issue where Hawkeye attacks his own team so he can fight a guy he has a grudge with, or the utter insanity of the Wasp’s wedding. And the Wasp is written so sexist, spending multiple issues fainting or running rather than fighting (Stan Lee showed the Wasp ready to fight, even if she wasn’t very effective). On the third hand, there’s some absolutely awesome art from John Buscema, who has an amazing flair for drawing not only supehero fights but everyday people — his crowd scenes are often full of individuals, rather than just a faceless mass.

I’m not a fan of most of Jack Kirby’s Bronze Age work, the big exceptions being Kamandi and THE ETERNALS which I recently reread in TPB. Though the premise is standard gods-from-outer-space stuff, Kirby pumps it up and makes it epic and cosmic. Millennia ago, the alien Celestials transformed our ape ancestors into three races: the noble, immortal Eternals, the monstrous, genetically unstable Deviants, and humanity. This is the wellspring of myth, legend and religion: The Celestials provide the Biblical stuff (Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood), the Eternals are deities of myth and the Deviants are the demons and bogeymen. Now the Celestials are returning to judge how their creations turned out — and if we fail the fifty-year test, Earth will be wiped out like every past test planet.Kirby creates some spectacular visuals for this story; equally important, humanity gets actively involved. I love that the Eternal leader Zuras goes on TV to explain what’s going on, or that the Eternals show up at a college to introduce themselves to an anthropology class.On the downside, the Celestials are genocides, murderers of a hundred worlds, yet nobody treats them as bad guys. Would that have happened eventually if the series had kept running? Maybe, but I can only go by what we see (I’m ignoring Marvel’s later Eternals stories as I doubt they have any connection with Kirby’s plans). Despite that flaw, I enjoyed the book, which I’ll be blogging about at Atomic Junkshop in a couple of weeks.

#SFWApro. Cover by Charles Fetherolf, Eternals art by Jack Kirby.

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“Stick to the status quo” … or don’t

(Title inspired by the song from High School Musical. Two discussions of the status quo follow)

Sticking to the status quo is an understandable impulse, especially in any sort of series. If you write about a single PI who beds a different woman each book, marrying him off can kill off audience interest (case in point, Carter Brown’s various swinger protagonists). When the creators have a set-up that involves sexual/romantic tension — will they or won’t they go to bed? Will Superman ever tell Lois his identity? — they often worry that resolving the big issue will have the same effect. If the urban fantasy premise requires magic fly under the radar in a secret war, you don’t want it going public.

Trouble is, this can easily lead writers to cheat. Superman II, for example, has Lois finally discover Clark’s identity; he renounces his powers to be with her, but then he has to take them back to stop the bad guy. At the end, Clark resolves the conflict by kissing her and wiping her memory that he’s Superman. Everything back to normal, cue Superman III (which wound up not using Lois). Only … how the hell does he do it? Sure, Superman has powers far beyond those of ordinary mortals, but they aren’t magic; he can’t just induce amnesia with a kiss because the plot calls for it. And it didn’t really call for it (even given Lois was kind of upset and confused about the situation), it was the long-term future of the franchise that did (this was years before the comics and Lois and Clark proved he could unmask and they could get married and the series wouldn’t die).

Likewise after a certain point straining to keep sexual tension up by throwing new obstacles in their path just gets ridiculous. While I wasn’t a fan of the 1990s sitcom Anything But Love, I give the creators top marks for ending the sexual tension after about a season rather than keeping it frozen. As one of the producers said, having a relationship actually happen doesn’t mean everything gets easy or no obstacles crop up

It’s really frustrating in comics. I’ve read stories of several creators who made changes during their run, then promptly undid them so that the next writer would have the same options and characters available they did. I mean, what’s the point of that? Or the countless examples of creators going back years later and unmaking changes to the status quo. Barry Allen replaces Wally West and becomes the Flash again. Spider-Man’s marriage gets erased. And so on. People in the industry talk a lot about how fans don’t want change, just “the illusion of change,” but it’s far more the writers. Sometimes I wish they’d just take the pieces on the board and play from there instead of starting the game over.

For another take on the status quo we have a thread by mystery novelist Laura Lippman complaining that the whole point of mystery fiction is to restore the status quo: catch the killer, solve the crime, restore order. And this “presumes the status quo is worth restoring.” Instead writers should think whether the protagonist’s job is “to restore the old order or create a new one.” (Barbara Ross has some thoughts in response). It strikes me the same could be said about a lot of SF: in a 1950s monster movie/alien invasion story, the typical response is that things are OK once the monster is destroyed. But society still goes on its merry way, with racism, sexism, etc. unchanged.

It’s certainly possible to do a novel where the protagonist does more. Day of the Triffids is very much about the chance to start the world over, though Wyndham isn’t very clear how that will work out. Impossible Takes a Little Longer will end with KC hopefully making some serious changes. And I’ve seen a blacksploitation movie or two that shows the protagonist making the system at least a little fairer, pushing back against the white powers that be. Swashbucklers are all about creating a more just society, albeit in most cases by putting a good king on the throne rather than a bad king. Zen Cho manages it well in Sorcerer to the Crown and I do love that it focuses on systemic change for women, not just changing things for the female lead.

But as a general rule … I don’t buy it. Most protagonists aren’t in a position to reform the status quo or create a new order beyond toppling a corrupt official or two. It wouldn’t be believable beyond a certain point if they tried — if there’s one thing the past few years have demonstrated, making sweeping changes is hard. As journalist David Rieff says, sometimes applying a bandage is all you can do. Even in a book like Lovecraft Country, which deals with systemic racism, the most the good guys can do is break free from the control of one particular racist — they can’t make the system fairer (it is, after all, the “real” 1950s, so we know Jim Crow segregation ain’t going away yet). In SF it’s possible — we can assume that the protagonists in the Star Wars universe do make things better for everyone (then again, does defeating the Empire end anti-droid prejudice?) — but the closer it gets to reality, the harder a sell I think it is.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Something you can be thankful for

You haven’t been struck by any beams from space lately, have you?

Of course, if you have, I apologize for my insensitive comment.

#SFWApro. Cover by Dick Dillin, all rights remain with current holder.

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