Review Or Die

Don Rosa In Review – Return to Duckburg Place

So… there were some delays since my last Don Rosa in Review came out! I’m sorry about that. You can thank Dr. GeoX for inspiring me to put out this little birthday present to myself. I had waited for two Don Rosa books to come out to allow me to better discuss the material in relationship to his development as an artist, one being the Fantagraphics release, the other being the third volume of the Don Rosa Classics. I’m not holding my breath on that last one coming out any time soon, more’s the pity, but I do have the Fantagraphics releases. With them, I finally, finally have an opportunity to go through Don Rosa’s Duck stories the way I had intended!

Well. Except for one. Return to Duckburg Place was written in 1970 with Ray Foushee, who also collaborated on ‘a handful of [Pertwillaby Papers] episodes’, and is technically the first Disney Duck comic Rosa ever worked on. I say technically because it was produced as an underground comic, starts with Huey Dewey and Louie smoking pot, and actually gets more messed up from there. While this comic was published in European territories as part of various Don Rosa collections, the more uptight Disney of America wouldn’t allow publication of this story in the Don Rosa Library. I was fortunate enough to find a copy from an acquaintance to work with for this column. Funny what happens when Disney tells him not to publish things he worked on that fans want to read: somehow, it gets out there anyway.

This is one of only three Duck comics he did in black and white, all of which were unofficial productions. This is why you see Zip-A-Tone on most of the characters, later used to remarkable effect on The Pertwillaby Papers and Captain Kentucky. It is also easily the darkest thing he’s ever done, outdoing even his “Casper the Dead Baby” jokes made during conventions and interviews.

I really, really hope he’s joking. It makes sense the more you think about it, just look at that head… but anyway. I couldn’t think of a better way to return to Don Rosa in Review than this, with Return to Duckburg Place.

Summary: Don Rosa holds nothing back in a dark, satirical, amateur production that slams the Disney Duck world and its characters, and I laugh hysterically at the thought of this same guy being most well known for his heart wrenching, brilliant stories that thrive on extreme pathos. Everyone has a dark side, and this is definitely his.

The rest:

db-place1 (600 x 809) Read more…

Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition in Review

0Darkwing Duck – The Definitively Dangerous Edition is an odd duck, to say the least. Collecting the 2010-2011 BOOM! comic book series, at first blush it commits cardinal sins against how trade paperbacks should be collected. The seventeen issue collection has been given the Lucas-esque Special Edition treatment, with new dialogue, art and lettering. The final four issue story arc, “Dangerous Currency”, wasn’t reprinted. In any other situation, I’d be yelling “Off with their heads!”

But I’m not.

That’s because the new collection wasn’t treated like Star Wars, with a lack of respect or understanding of the source material that was hacked apart by a dictatorial lunatic. It’s been treated like Blade Runner, where the omnibus fixed the problems that were imposed upon the original series by outside circumstances, and turned the mixed bag of the original in to something truly great. But to understand why that happened at all, we have to discuss the issue of credit.

Aaron Sparrow is credited as the sole writer on the omnibus, though Ian Brill is credited as writer for the original series. According to Sparrow, as well as Darkwing artist James Silvani, he and Silvani ghostwrote rewrites of the series even after Sparrow was fired from his position as editor, and BOOM! as a whole. Brill insists that he was the sole writer for the comic and that Sparrow’s input was limited to the first three issues. When word of the rewrite came out for the omnibus he asked for his name to be removed from the book (as well as Sparrow’s replacement editor, Christopher Burns). The request was honored, which was a shame as it seems they were both responsible for the structure, if not the plots, of a fair amount of the book.

But I’m moving forward with the assumption that Sparrow and Silvani’s assertions are truthful, and clearly so are the people at Joe Books. While there are a number of reasons to believe it and numerous claims have been made on both sides, I only needed one fact to convince me: An examination of the rewrites shows a tone consistent with the first three issues which originally credited Sparrow as editor. There’s a greater focus on distinctive character voices, stronger comic timing, and more of an effort to have an identity that matched the TV show, rather than just a “funny superhero book.” While I enjoyed the original run, and adore Silvani’s art, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the definitive version of this series, and that it is Sparrow’s vision in the omnibus. Mostly.

Which brings us to the stories themselves. They comprise the first four story arcs and the annual, forming an overarcing story about the character of Drake Mallard, aka Darkwing Duck, and the point of taking up the mantle of the terror that flaps in the night.

I’m going to go over each story arc, then discuss the book as a whole.

Read more…

Recommending Comics for New Readers, from A to Z

One of the things which has frustrated me over the years is the insular nature of comics. The mental checks I have to do to see if a recommendation is something a human being could be expected to read without having Wikipedia open is only possible because of a memory for minutiae so vast that it overrides non-vital areas of basic human functionality, like the ability to recite the alphabet without singing the song under my breath. The first time you’re asked to explain the difference between a graphic novel and a comic, or what a trade paperback is and how that’s different from a graphic novel, you see how difficult the subject is to penetrate for somebody new to comics. And just for the people who aren’t familiar, here’s a quick guide.

Comic: A comic, while defined as a story told through the marriage of words and pictures, is the colloquial term for a single ‘issue’, which is published periodically like a magazine.

Trade paperback: This is a compilation of previously published issues, usually containing a story arc and not necessarily done in paperback: colloquially, they are known as a ‘trade.’

Graphic novel: A comic story published in a single installment. Having a sequel does not stop it, or its sequel, from being considered a graphic novel.

Anyway, what really clinched my problems with accessibility was Guardians of the Galaxy. After finding out that in order to read the Abnett/Lanning run of Guardians of the Galaxy that inspired the film I would need to read Marvel Annihilation, an 880 page event ‘comic’ spread across nine titles, conveniently collected in a $90 omnibus, I sat in stunned silence. Gee, when reading a comic requires research with a page count higher than my college textbook and a price to match, how is it possible that comic book movies gross over a billion dollars in theaters, while only four comics in January of 2015 managed to sell over 100,000 copies in the United States?

So here I am, with a list of recommendations for people new to comics, from A to Z (with a few missing letters). Here are the rules for constructing the list:

1. I have to have read it. I’m not here for hearsay.

2. The comic must be available to read in digital (Kindle or Comixology) or trade paperback format. You can usually find comics like these in your library system, in comic shops, or online through digital retailers.

3. The comic must not be bogged down by continuity in a way that makes it confusing to just pick up and read. If one quick question can get a reader on track, or prior stories are not required for you to follow and enjoy it, it’s fair game.

And finally, I made an effort to avoid repetition so as to provide as many options as I could for new readers, or people who may only be comfortable with one area of comics. So let’s begin, shall we?

A – The Amazing Spider-Man, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Amazing-Spider-Man-33-page-01 The Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run of Spider-Man, starting from his very first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, showcases all the best elements of a superhero comic. Peter Parker is an immensely identifiable protagonist, with strong characterization and top-notch art and writing throughout the run. The focus on Peter Parker as much as Spider-Man keeps the world grounded, and it is all the better for it. While some may find the storytelling conventions a bit dated or familiar, it’s only because it codified those conventions in a way every Spider-Man creator (and so many more) since has striven to emulate.

You can find these stories in the Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man collections.

B – Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

year-one While superhero origins tend to be told and re-told, Batman Year One is a story so good that it has served as the definitive origin for the character since its publication in 1987. It is wonderfully atmospheric, evoking pulp and noir in every panel. The story pulls no punches, showing Gotham as a world gone mad – and a man who becomes a haunting specter to the criminal underworld is the last, best chance to save it. And watching the film adaptation, the amount that was lost through the well-crafted internal monologues that make up the bulk of the textual narrative is simply criminal.

Batman Year One is available in trade paperback, but the latest edition is radically altered with new coloring – and I agree with the artist that it soils the story. The two trades with a checkmark have the original coloring, while the Deluxe Edition does not. Batman Year One

C – Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

CH860417_JPG This newspaper strip is a modern classic. Endlessly creative, the sharp wit and philosophical bent is elevated by the gorgeous artwork. This strip about a mischievous boy and his sardonic stuffed tiger serves as one of the smartest and most optimistic comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, despite its deceptively simple premise. Cliche as the line is, I have laughed and cried over this strip, and I say that happily. Watterson never compromised his artistic integrity, writing far more strips than were ever completed: because he never settled for putting out anything less than his best, for the readers and himself.

The best way to read this is with The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which contains every strip in its original format.

D – Dragon Ball, by Akira Toriyama

ksadksa For those who know of Dragon Ball Z by reputation (undeservedly known as an anime about pointy haired people shouting and occasionally throwing a punch when the animators could afford it), the original Dragon Ball will come as quite a shock. Dragon Ball is a Japanese action-comedy inspired by Journey to the West, with the purehearted and naive martial artist Goku traveling along with the genius teenage girl Bulma to collect seven mystical artifacts that can combine to grant any wish. Its pacing is pitch-perfect, with an elegance to the writing and art that shows why it remains an inspiration to any aspiring manga creator to this day, and a timeless pleasure to read. A note: while Dragon Ball Z is a continuation of Dragon Ball in Japan, it is marked as a separate series in the United States.

I strongly recommend the Dragon Ball VizBig editions (a larger format than the typical manga publication), along with Dragon Ball Z in the same format.

E – Doctor Who Endgame, by Alan Barnes and Scott Gray

DWGN4 I’ll cop to it: I couldn’t find something that started with E. But I am recommending the Doctor Who: Endgame trade paperback, continuing with The Glorious Dead, Oblivion, and The Flood trade paperbacks, which completes a nine year run on the comic strip that covers the entirety of the Eighth Doctor’s tenure as the star. This British comic ‘strip’ was originally published in 7-9 full page installments in Doctor Who Magazine, an unusual format that reads beautifully in the magazine sized compilations put out by Panini Books. The work that writer Alan Barnes, followed by Scott Gray, put in shows with strong characterization and clever storytelling, using their limited page count with a deft hand to take full advantage of the flexibility it offers. You don’t need to be a Doctor Who fan to enjoy these comics about a time traveling adventurer: if you like a cunning hero with a sense of humor, this comic is a perfect fit. And as a bonus, there’s a great inclusion of bonus materials from the creative team, discussing the making-of for each story with a nice frankness.

All four trades can be found on Amazon, though you may have to settle for a used copy of Endgame.

F – The Far Side, by Gary Larson

Gary Larson’s Far Side is one of the strangest comics to ever hit the newspapers, and also one of the funniest. Praising a comedy is as difficult as criticizing it, but the utter irreverence and off-beat tone make this strip one of the most unique voices in comics. Anyone who enjoys a good laugh, and I’ve never met someone who doesn’t, should be introduced to the Thagomzier immediately.

The Complete Far Side is your best bet for reading the comic.

G – Gunnerkrigg Court, by Tom Siddell

00001064 Gunnerkrigg Court’s genre mash-up of slice of life, fantasy, horror, adventure, and comedy is the type of mix-and-match that you can expect from webcomics, but Tom Siddel balances it out with surprising deftness. It draws you in with an atypical protagonist and an intriguing atmosphere, asking questions that demand answers until you find yourself pausing only because it’s 3:00 AM (though you didn’t really need to sleep, did you?). The art improves with every page, and it remains one of the most well drawn webcomics out there. While Gunnerkrigg Court is approaching its tenth anniversary, it is not yet complete – and I’m glad there’s so much more to come.

You can read Gunnerkrigg Court online here.

H – Harley Quinn, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and Chad Hardin

Harley-Quinn-1-Page-2 Harley-Quinn-1-Page-3I freely admit that I am in love with the husband and wife team of Palmiotti and Conner, who took the Bruce Timm created character of Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn and updated her for a solo series in DC’s New 52 universe. The team produces a stylish and expressive art that I adore, with gleefully dark humor and innocently crazy protagonist. It completely embraces the ridiculous world of Harley Quinn, with a wheelchair bound Cold War cyborg spy, a talking stuffed beaver, and vicious roller derby battles that never stops being funny.

Harley Quinn has been collected in trade format, with one collection out so far in Harley Quinn: Hot in the City and another to come with Harley Quinn: Power Outage this April.

I – Genuinely can’t think of a comic that fits my criteria for this letter

J – JL8, by Yale Stewart

9 JL8, formerly known as Little League, is a fan comic that stars the Justice League in an elementary school setting. Created in the style of a newspaper strip, its lighthearted tone pokes a little bit of fun at DC, but is mostly about the adventures and childish hijinks of adorable little kids who happen to have superpowers. Funny, sweet, and occasionally poignant, I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys DC movies and can laugh at the fun of it all.

The first comic is here, and you can read the rest through Stewart’s official JL8 tumblr or facebook page.

K – Knights of the Dinner Table, by Jolly Blackburn

knights-of-the-dinner-table-comic-150 This is, oddly enough, the first traditionally published indie comic on the list. In 1990, Knights of the Dinner Table served as a single page backup feature in Shadis magazine poking fun at Dungeons and Dragons, and is now with the put-upon Gamemaster B.A. Felton and his players, old school gamer Bob, newbie fighter Dave, rules lawyer Brian, and role player Sara. We see them game together, with all the ridiculous things that happen in any good RPG campaign – mishaps, arguments, GM and player trickery, rival groups, and the fun of slinging dice and fighting orcs. It is now on its 217th issue, having moved from one-off jokes to ongoing stories of longer campaigns. You can pick up any issue and read it just fine, but going back and starting from the beginning is how I’d suggest you enjoy it. If you know even the basics of what Dungeons and Dragons is, you’ll enjoy the Knights of the Dinner Table and their adventures in Hackmaster.

You can read back issues through the Bundle of Trouble trade paperbacks, KenzerCo’s digital copies available on their website, and get a sampling of some of the humor from its web strips – though the longer storytelling will only be available in back issue or trade paperback format. Check out the early classic with Lair of the Gazebo.

L – The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, by Don Rosa

01 - [The Last of the Clan McDuck] If anybody reading this knows my blog, you knew this was coming. I will review this in time, but for now, suffice to say that this twelve part epic tale of Scrooge McDuck’s life before the Disney comics is masterfully done. Poignant writing, great jokes, a wonderful overarching plot, and some of my favorite Rosa artwork, this story is a perfect introduction to a beloved character, and a great read in its own right. It was my introduction to the character in the comics, and I happily recommend it to anyone for that same purpose.

You can find the Gemstone or Boom-published trade paperbacks through your library or occasionally at a comic shop, as the Fantagraphics release is a ways away.

M – Mickey Mouse, by Floyd Gottfredson

gottfredson-1930-6-28 It may sound like I’m biased towards Disney on this list, but that’s only because of the ubiquity of the characters. You don’t need to know a whole lot to understand the world of Mickey Mouse, and Gottfredson’s work on the everyman hero is rightly praised. I particularly love the elasticity and urgency he brings to these static images, something that is normally difficult to do in the span of a smaller space of a newspaper comic. The strip runs the range from straight comedy to mad science, adventures in far flung lands, dinosaurs, detective tales, and the occasional bits of romance that gives this something for everyone.

The Fantagraphics editions of the books are the definitive way to read his stories and include a wealth of bonus features, though you would be well-advised to skip the introductions preceding each story. They do little more than tell you the plot or ending of the story, in what I can only assume is a deliberate effort to spoil the reading experience.

N – Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

nausicaamanga1 My initial reaction when I heard that Hayao Miyazaki had drawn a manga series was shock, glee, and a rather speedy run to get my hands on a copy. While fans of his are likely to have seen this pre-Ghibli Miyazaki work, Nausicaa’s manga (created so that the movie could be funded due to its basis as an existing property) extends the story far beyond the confines of the two hour film. You can see the animator’s hand in every panel, and even those who haven’t seen the movie can feel the inimitable atmosphere and tension that he excels at. There are few things I will call an epic, but this is most assuredly one of them.

Nausicaa has been collected in the oversized Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Box Set, to best showcase Miyazaki’s unique art.

O – The Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew

oots0022 How odd that I would make note of how I view the word ‘epic’, only to find none better to describe The Order of the Stick. Its beginnings as a humorous riff on Dungeons and Dragons quickly gave way to a fantasy tale in a Dungeons and Dragons world, but never shed its sense of humor. Rich Burlew’s simple art style gives a unique feel to this party of misfit adventurers, and the emotional torque he can generate from his characters is a masterclass of strong plotting and character arcs. For non-gamers, if you don’t get the jokes early on, don’t worry. Such jokes taper off quickly (replaced by much better ones), and you won’t need to understand Dungeons and Dragons to grasp the idea of swords, sorcery, and an epic tale that knows what the best stories are always about: the human condition.

While you can read the whole of the webcomic here, he has three print-only books (On the Origin of PCs, Start of Darkness, and Snips, Snails, and Dragon Tales) that serve as backstory and side adventures, while the trade paperbacks that collect the webcomic itself included ‘deleted’ scenes and invaluable commentary. If you like the story, check the physical copies out, as it makes a great story even better.

P – Power Girl, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner

4cd9c7d391bcf I have never laughed, on a pound-for-pound basis, at any comic as much as I have with the Palmiotti/Conner run of Power Girl. This twelve-issue run showcases a superheroine finding herself as well as finding friendship, and is an utterly human examination of this character without ever descending into tedious monologues of contemplation. And Conner’s artwork is, in my opinion, among the best DC has ever produced. Stupendously expressive, lavishly drawn, and stuffed to the gills with sight gags, she deserves all the accolades she gets, and a few more on top of that. The only reason I hesitated to put this comic on the list is because it is so good, it could spoil your ability to enjoy other great stories simply by not measuring up to the heights this achieves.

The Palmiotti/Conner run of Power Girl was recently re-released in trade format, Power Girl: Power Trip. This includes four issues written by Geoff Johns that showcase Conner’s artwork, as well as everything that I have railed against in this article about accessibility to people who haven’t been reading comics since the 1980s. While they’re fine reads if you have more of an understanding of the character, feel free to skip them and get to the good stuff, or just enjoy her gorgeous artwork.

Q – Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques

1882 Questionable Content, despite its name, is a slice-of-life comic with a PG-13 rating. Originally a comedy with a romantic main plot (with some jokes more suited for music nerds), it shifted towards exploring its cast and characters. It dips in to the realm of drama when the story calls for it, but with anthropomorphic PC robots and a background superhero known only as “Pizza Girl” inhabiting its pages, it can never descend to a world of tragedy. With a good sense of comic timing and constantly evolving art, each update is generally worth a smile and a bit of a laugh. Sometimes that’s all you need to start the day.

You can read Questionable Content at Jacques’ website, and he has collected (with new artwork) his comics in trade paperback format.

R – Rurouni Kenshin, by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Kenshin Rurouni Kenshin is another in the long list of comics that brought a smile to my face the moment I was reminded of it. The story of a master swordsman who has sworn to never kill again, and the world he left behind drawing him in once more, effectively blends good drama with excellent action. I want to particularly praise the characterization of the villains in this series, which defies expectations and creates a subtlety not present in many such characters. He never took the easy way out with his characterization or storytelling, and it leads to a story that retains the traditional format of action manga without becoming predictable. The final arc is my favorite storyline, and the fact that its animated adaptation was cancelled before reaching that arc is utterly criminal.

You can find Rurouni Kenshin in the oversized VizBig format, which I highly recommend.

S – Sonic the Hedgehog, by many different hands

STH56 Sonic the Hedgehog is a member of the Freedom Fighters, some of the last remnants of organic life on a world which has been conquered by the mad Dr. Robotnik, who roboticizes the population to turn them in to mindless automatons. The comic originally had a much more humorous tone, similar to its TV series progenitors (as the games never had much of a story), but in time grew to tell a story all its own that still continues 23 years later. I’m bending my own rules a bit here, but I personally believe the comic took off around Issue #25 with Sonic Archives #7, and I think it’s a great place to start. Notes from the editor catch you up without ever having to go back to the older issues. Sonic has had many authors and artists over the years, but I’d recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the games, a fan of the old TV show, or just enjoys an action/adventure comic and doesn’t mind the funny animal people starring in it.

The absolute best place to buy Sonic comics is the Sonic Archives directly from the Archie website, which offers heavy discounts and promotions.

T – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

Ninja Turtles Hard to believe that a one-shot parody book of Daredevil could spawn a multimillion-dollar franchise, but it did so with good reason – really great source material. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird wrote and drew every page together, and that fusion makes for some incredible stories. Their initial run of 15 issues was two people clearly having a blast writing and drawing whatever they felt like, with aliens, urban crime, mysticism, and a heart that gave the series a charm that never let it descend into farce. Other artists and writers worked on the Turtles, but it is the Eastman and Laird work that I truly enjoy. Every time I open up my collection, I am in awe of their combined artwork and the unfettered freedom shining on every page.

IDW collects the Eastman/Laird specific material in its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Ultimate Collection, covering the original 15 issues they produced together, their solo efforts, and the twelve part epic “City at War” that capped off the original series.

U – Uncle Scrooge, by Carl Barks

Uncle ScroogeWith good reason, Carl Barks is the maestro of Duck comics and an inspiration for not just artists on this list, but of masters such as Steven Spielberg and Osamu Tezuka. What elevates his work above the rest is a word I tend to use when praising series quite often: elegance. He never wasted a page, a panel, a line, or a word, keeping the stories tight and atmospheric in a way that makes the execution a marvel to behold – and the stories themselves become timeless reads. Superbly executed action, adventure, comedy, and a wit that never dulled, there is a reason that even after sixty years of publication, he remains The Good Duck Artist.

Fantagraphics is currently collecting his Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck work (which is wonderful in its own right).

V – ery sorry, but I whiffed this letter.

W – Welcome to the Jungle, by Jim Butcher and Adrian Syaf

dfaef1cf78e9fddff3e1be8ef317762b The Dresden Files is my favorite book series, and the stories produced specifically for comics are a pleasure to read. Welcome to the Jungle is a prequel to the books about this Chicago-based wizard detective, a man with a nose for trouble and a mouth that gets mundane and supernatural criminals alike ready to break that nose. Written by Jim Butcher, author of the books, his first crack at comics paired with artist Adrian Syaf brings visual life to the world of The Dresden Files in a way never seen before. Welcome to the Jungle is self contained, requires no background knowledge, and is a great comic for anyone who enjoys a good murder mystery and all its trappings.

You can find Welcome to the Jungle in trade paperback format, with making-of information and some commentary from Jim Butcher.

Honorary mention: Watchmen almost made the list, as it is a comic which is studied to this day. But I believe that it is better suited to people more familiar with comics, or are interested in critical study of the medium, rather than someone who doesn’t know where to start.

X – X-Men, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

UncannyXMen101 Marvel is generally not my forte, but Chris Claremont carved a space in the Marvel Universe all his own. From a reprint-only title, Claremont brought X-Men to superstar status with detailed characters, emotional conflicts, and real world subtext (barely hidden subtext at times, but that’s okay) that X-Men would be known for to this day. Claremont is known in comic book circles for his verbose style and numerous plot hooks, but I don’t mind it at all because the characters are so fleshed out. The reason his comics have endured is because he stuck with his vision to the end, and the X-Men media created since then, from cartoons to movies, have drawn from his work. The message of prejudice, exclusion, and the threat of losing a single being simply because they are different is a timeless one.

You can read his run on X-Men with Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men Volume 1, or the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus collections of his work.

Y – Young Justice, by Peter David and Todd Nauck

Young Justice A comic produced by Peter David, a very funny and intelligent author, took the idea of sidekicks teaming up and came up with a radical (for DC, anyway) idea: make a traditional superhero team without grim and gritty drama, and have fun with it instead. With the core three of Superboy, Impulse and Robin helming the book, it had a large cast of sidekick characters and a sense of fun even as the team matures. It has all the good of a team book, with action, interplay and character beats, without the overdramatic writing that can plague this type of comic. Young Justice is a great way to be introduced to the DC universe of that time and see superhero action from someone who knows comics backwards and forwards, and is smart without being too clever for his own good.

You can read it here on Comixology, and the first issue is free.

Z – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, by Shotaro Ishinomori

page 13 page 14 I have been waiting for this comic to be reprinted for decades, and the moment I saw that it would be, it took me less than 60 seconds to submit my pre-order. Originally serialized in Nintendo Power, this loose adaptation of the Super Nintendo classic by manga maestro Shotaro Ishinomori so perfectly captured the haunting atmosphere that I felt playing the top-down games that it is his work, not Nintendo’s, that I imagine when I think of The Legend of Zelda. This adventure shows a young man, a kidnapped princess, an evil wizard, a knightly rescue, and Ishinomori defies the idea of a fairy tale telling by injecting every panel with a visceral sense of dread and darkness. This is a masterclass in visual storytelling, and nicely written to boot, and I can think of nothing better to end this list.

Showing off the Shelves

Comics have been a part of my life since I was young. I learned the proper way to read a Silver Age comic book (soap, hot water, dry your hands, find a clean space, don’t bend the cover back, dog-ear nothing, the grading system works like this and I only want you handling Fine Minus or less, and here’s how we keep reversible tape from getting on the cover…), I learned how to follow an ongoing plot from “Sonic the Hedgehog”, I learned what the concept of sarcasm was from “Garfield”, and that’s all before the age of eight.

The 90s weren’t a kind time for comics aimed at kids, at least not with the superhero material I liked to read. I busied myself with the DC and Marvel’s animated projects, anime, and my passion for television, but comics were always important to me. Discovering “Calvin and Hobbes” from trade paperbacks at a relative’s house was like drinking clean water for the first time.

But getting back in to comics over the last five years has been a godsend for me as a reader and a person, and a big part of why I’ve been able to do that is thanks to being pushed towards Disney comics. The stories and artists that I enjoyed most from Disney were collected in trade paperbacks, which were easier to find than scouring garage sales, conventions, eBay and Craigslist for back issues (though I do that too: I’m looking at you, Gladstone’s Disney comics. See you at FallCon!) When reading the forwards/making of sections, I could see the where the influence of specific writers and artists that I admired came from, and in turn, who they influenced.

Add to that my own love for superheroes, an impulse purchase or two, and the recommendations of friends, my collection grew from a Christmas present of “Batman: Year One” and a few “Knights of the Dinner Table” trades (not pictured, as the now 50+ volume collection is current stored in a box), to something that has my shelves bending from the weight. I’ve had more fun going back in to comics than I have with… well, just about anything I’ve done the past few years.

I’d like to share the five shelves of books I’ve managed to get a hold of as of 09/15/14, with the arrival of the last volumes of “Dragon Ball”, the first four “Knuckles the Echidna Archives”, and the Palmiotti/Conner run of “Power Girl.”

09-15-14 A 09-15-14 B 09-15-14 C 09-15-14 D

Are you my mummy?

Are you my mummy?

Naturally, this doesn’t properly represent the size of the books in question, as they’ve been pushed flush with the edge of the shelf for this post.

The disparate sizes in printing for newspaper comics astounds me: “Wednesday Comics” (not pictured above because it doesn’t even fit on the shelf) is my tallest vertical format book, while “Terry and the Pirates by George Wunder Volume One” is the largest horizontal format that I own. The source material being drawn and printed in a different size has a lot to do with it, but it’s just how different they are that baffles me. Just take a look:

Vertical format

Vertical format

Horizontal format

Horizontal format

The oversized editions of comic books, which you can see with the Absolute Edition of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” up above, are generally what I shoot for when I shop. They tend to have the most bonus materials, and allow you to see the detail of the art much more clearly – especially with someone as wonderful as Perez.

Incidentally, if you ever need a pick-me up, try and explain the plot to Crisis on Infinite Earths in depth to someone who has never read comics. Just watch their expression and you’ll get a real clear picture about why DC and Marvel have trouble finding new readers… and a good laugh in the process.

I am probably the bane of publishers when it comes to my shopping habits – bargains, deals and sales are what I shoot for virtually without exception, and since I’m on a budget, Amazon is my go-to for purchases. But if you’re willing to dig and be patient, you can find even better deals in person. I was able to obtain ten volumes of the out of print “The Spirit Archives” for 15 dollars apiece, so long as I bought them on the spot. It was Eisner’s post-war work and the books were in top-notch condition. How could I say no? (Mostly by ignoring the screams of my wallet)

But this brings me to a less rhetorical question. I have waited for the Fantagraphics Don Rosa box set before I continue Don Rosa in Review, so things have stalled a bit on that front until its publication. So looking at this collection, do you have a particular thought as to what I should take a look at in the meantime? Kindly leave a comment and let me know, and I’ll make that a priority.

And of course, any suggestions as to comics I should pick up are GREATLY appreciated! I know no matter how many comics I read, there will always be more to enjoy, but that’s half the fun.

“From the Files of… Mike Hammer” in Review


They dropped the package at my door in the dead of Minnesota winter, where the bright and unclouded sun shone down in a sweet lie – just touching the door handle with your bare hands would burn you with winter’s grip. Ten seconds is the longest you can open the door for without protection, or the ice will burrow in to your bones, like a parasite that drinks the heat from you. I couldn’t close the door before the count hit fifteen.

“Every time a package comes, you do this,” I swore at myself. “The comic can’t be that good.” I rubbed my hands together, a few moments reprieve before the parasite stole that too. I tore open the package straight down the middle, the way an animal gets its meat. In a way, that’s all I was. Weeks of waiting had made me hungry.

The cover was nothing special, with a design decades out of date. Solid red, the hue somewhere between blood and roses. A square-jawed hero eyeing a smoking dame – both of them with cigarettes. And the name: “From the Files of… Mike Hammer.” At first glance, it looked more like a romance than a two fisted detective strip. But the collection was complete, and I figured for the price, I’d have a decent afternoon’s read.

I opened to the first story, and by the time I got to page three I was reading as fast as the bullets flying on the page. In the middle of a strip, I couldn’t help but curse. Only one thought ran through my mind: I would kill to write like this.
Read more…

First Time at the Movies – Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka posterWhere I knew I would be most tripped up in this series be in the following categories: sequels, remakes, adaptations, and iconic classics.

Willy Wonka fits two of those categories – the adaptation and the icon. Personally, I’m of the opinion that an adaptation should (at its finest) take what was brilliant about the original, hone it as highly as possible, and alter it as necessary to suit the medium. There’s a reason the property was picked up for adaptation. It’s special, not just as a work, but to the people who loved the original.
Read more…

First Time at the Movies – Escape from L.A.

Escape from LA

I sat here, in the same chair, looking at the same monitor I watched Escape from New York on. The opening credits began. The same director, producer, and star returned for the sequel. Shirley Walker, the composer for Batman the Animated Series and my personal favorite TV composer ever was involved with the score.

Sure, co-writer Nick Castle left, but surely that’s not reason enough to worry. And yeah, the script for the movie was commissioned in 1985, with the final product released in 1996, but that surely means it was just given more love and attention. Kurt Russel produced the movie, but it’s not like a star being involved in the production has ever been associated with poor quality. Yes, someone warned me away from the movie, but I came in wanting to give it a fair shake. I was untainted by nostalgia. I was ready. My mind was open.

That’s a mistake I won’t be making again.
Read more…

An Interview with Jason DeMarco

I’ve been watching Toonami since 1998, and to this day, I marvel at what it’s accomplished. The Cartoon Network, now Adult Swim, animation programming block played a large part in bringing anime to the United States, was the Western progenitor of microseries with programming like The Intruder, IGPX, and Star Wars Clone Wars, and was responsible for airing some of the finest programming of its time.

Toonami’s reputation as an outstanding cartoon block has as much to do with the packaging surrounding it as it does the programming itself. No other block would take commercial time to speak to the viewers like an individual about topics like anger, experience, courage, or discuss the fear that comes with following your dreams.

A great deal of the tone, style, and quality of Toonami’s programming and packaging can be traced back to Toonami co-creator Jason DeMarco, who currently holds the position of Vice President, Creative Director, Adult Swim On-Air.

When you first think of marketing, certain stereotypes can easily come to mind – the used car salesman trying to pass off junk as gold, or someone who treats their audience like sheep. It might surprise you to know, then, that Jason DeMarco is one of the most sincere people I’ve ever met. I personally believe his work on the Adult Swim Singles Program, an annual release of free music singles from various acts, is as much a matter of promotion as it is a chance for him to share the music he’s passionate about.

Toonami, I think, is no different: each week is an opportunity to help bring what he loves to millions of people. There is no irony to his love of animation, television, and the work he does each week: the six hour weekly block remains an unpaid side project in addition to his day job.

I was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with Mr. DeMarco, where we discussed the return of Toonami after its cancellation in 2008, his role at Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, and the future of the better cartoon show.

(Note: I’ve inserted relevant video links after the answers. All parentheticals after Mr. DeMarco’s answers were added after the fact)

Read more…

First Time at the Movies – Escape from New York

Escape From New York (1981) Original v2

Escape From New York was probably just the right thing for me to start this series with. It’s an action movie by a well known writer/director, so the story is elegantly streamlined in a way that is perfectly suited for the big screen.
Read more…

Intro – First Time at the Movies

I don’t watch many movies.

I’ve never been sure why, really. I hear people talk about their favorite movies, how they have movie nights, how much a certain work influenced them. But it was never like that for me. I grew up with television, and prefer that medium above all others. There are so many facets to the way one can tell stories with television, so much investment in the characters on screen. Never have I experienced a story the way I did with the DC Animated Universe, which lasted from 1992-2006, across seven television series and four movies.

I’m not averse to other kinds of stories. Books, comics, video games are all things I will happily indulge. But I shied away from movies, seeing them only rarely after the age of ten. Even now I only go to the theater a few times a year, with the caveat that I always see two movies at a time – to double the chances of enjoying myself.

“If only it were ten, twenty minutes longer,” my friends would hear when I came back and engaged in the obligatory post-game discussion/argument. When I first watched The Breakfast Club just a few months ago, I found myself baffled by the movie’s editing. A scene would stop, and I would wonder where the ending had gone. Hints and buildup would permeate scenes, hooks I was sure would be followed up on – but the payoff never came. It was as though the script had been gutted. Sure enough, the original cut was 150 minutes long, trimmed to 97 minutes for its theatrical and DVD release.

I wish I could watch that cut.

My goal in life is to work in television as a writer, and eventually, a showrunner. I have no interest in writing for films. Anywhere from one to three years working on a script over which I have zero ownership or creative control? I cannot imagine a more nightmarish existence. But the more I talk with and learn about people who tell stories, the more I see how much movies mean to them, and the more I find myself frustrated that they don’t mean that much to me.

But as I said, I rarely watch movies. It was only this year, after much prodding and a bit of yelling (“You’ve never seen Raiders!?” was a phrase uttered with the same intonation as “How can you not know what indoor plumbing is!?”), that I saw the Indiana Jones trilogy. Further interrogation of my viewing habits by friends and family led me to realize one thing:

I’ve never given any real attention to movies. I’ve taken general education film courses in college, but they focused more on the history and technical aspects of film, and I was using them largely as an avenue to better understand television. My actual experience as a film-goer is almost nonexistent, and as such I have managed to deny myself an entire medium of storytelling.

To rectify that, Review or Die will have a new feature – First Time at the Movies. The column will run every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, starting tomorrow.

The rules are simple:

If I haven’t seen it as an adult, it’s fair game.

Nothing I write will be spoiler free.

I’m not an objective reviewer, I’m a viewer with an opinion (to ape SF Debris), so don’t look at this as an attempt to declare what is empirically good or bad. This is all a learning experience on my part.

If I have different cuts to choose from, I will stick with what people would consider the truest viewing experience, such as the Final Cut of Blade Runner and the theatrical release of Alien.

I’ll be focusing on movies that have proven influential in some way, be it through cultural osmosis or sheer quality, which means older films are the primary focus for now. Suggestions are welcome, and I hope you enjoy the show.

Next time: Escape from New York

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.