Saturday, December 24, 2011

Comics and Christmas Memories

To mark the festive season, I thought it would be interesting to post some comic images from the various toy franchises I've asked Santa Claus for over the years.  

Optimus Prime from Marvel's Transformers Universe #2, January 1987
We start with Transformers, the toyline that kept me the most interested in the 1980s. One of my best Christmases was when Optimus Prime showed up under the tree in 1984, and I still think he's one of the best toys ever designed. Unfortunately, I don't own a lot of TF comics, but if you're looking for an interesting account of the Autobots, Decepticons and Marvel's role in their development, check out the link to Jim Shooter's blog here.  
From Marvel's Transformers #39, April 1988
Star Wars toys were also a staple of Christmases in the 1980s in my house. Here are some images from the Marvel's run which started with A New Hope and ended in the mid-to-late 1980s. I've also included an image from Dark Horse's reprint of the Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson newsprint run which was collected into 20 issues in the early 1990s and titled Classic Star Wars. Dark Horse bought the licence between 1989 and 1990 (I couldn't uncover an exact date) and has been publishing Star Wars comics ever since.
Splash from Marvel's Star Wars #28,  October 1979
'Jabba the Hut' appears in Star Wars #28, October 1979
From Dark Horse's Classic Star Wars #10,  July 1993
Robotech -- one of the first successful forays of Japanese Manga into the North American market -- is the third group of toys I've included. I was never a big collector of the toys, but remember a great Christmas morning when a Zentradi Battlepod appeared under the tree. The action figure line wasn't of the same quality as Hasbro's GI Joe (which was banned in my house anyway), but I liked the sci-fi and will still watch the show every now and then. 
Splash from Comico's Robotech #19, May 1987
The fold bothers me too. Page from Comico's Robotech #19, May 1987
Robotech comics were published Comico, a small publisher based in Norristown, Pennsylvania. They printed the Macross Saga between 1985 and 1989 but went out of business in 1990. Other comics from other companies have been printed involving the Robotech franchise, but I only followed Macross, so that's all I've included. 

From Comico's Robotech #18, March 1987
From Comico's Robotech #18, March 1987
Finally we have Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. This live-action show had a line of toys which were unique because they involved some of the earliest toy-television interactive play. The show only lasted one season (1987-88) however; probably because it couldn't figure out whether it was an adult program like Star Trek or a kids show like Transformers. 

From Continuity Comics' Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #1, August 1988
From Continuity Comics' Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #1, August 1988
Only three issues of the comics were ever published and what's particularly interesting about them is that they were done by Continuity Comics, a company founded by comics great Neil Adams in 1984. This particular issue was drawn by Adams himself and was adapted from a television script by long-time television and comics writer J. Michael Straczynski. One Christmas I got a Lord Dredd's throne and a 'Soaron' figure which was very cool.
From Continuity Comics' Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #1, August 1988
'Soaron' from Continuity Comics' Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #1, August 1988
So there you go: a little walk down memory lane before you stuff yourselves with Christmas turkey and chocolate. Thanks again for visiting WGTB and have a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Remembering Joe Simon

This past Thursday, Joe Simon, co-creator of Captain America, passed away at age 98.
 Timely's Captain America Comics #1 from March 1941
Now, there are many, many more comic bloggers and journalists who can give a better explanation of Simon’s importance to the industry. But while reflecting upon Captain America this morning, I couldn’t help think about how novel it was to personify national values and turn them into a super-hero. National personification as a concept goes back years: John Bull, Uncle Sam, Marianne are probably the most famous examples of this. But the idea of taking a national character and turning him/her into an action star: that was novel and different. 

Canada's Vindicator (Alpha Flight) and Captain America (Avengers) meet up in Marvel's Alpha Flight #39, October 1985
And what a great representative of the United States Steve Rogers/Captain America was. Simply put, Rogers could be counted as a metaphor of the meteoric rise of the United States into a global power. In the late nineteenth century, the U.S. was not nearly as influential as Great Britain or other major European powers, but by 1945, it was far and away the most powerful country in the world and helped keep an aggressive Soviet Union at bay for nearly forty-five years. Talk about drinking super-serum!  
The origins of Captain Britain explained in Marvel's Excalibur #40, August 1991
And look at the following super-heroes who have followed in Captain America's footsteps and are part of the Simon/Kirby legacy. Captain Britain, Captain Canuck, Alpha Flight's Guardian and Vindicator have all taken what is great about their respective nations, dressed-up in its flag and values and gone out to save it and the world. That is a pretty amazing and influential idea and something we all owe to Captain America and the great work of Joe Simon. Thank you, Joe, for your outstanding contribution to comics! 

Captain Canuck from Comely Comix Captain Canuck #1, July 1975
Canada's Guardian in Alpha Flight #1, August 1983

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WGTB reviews FF #12, Uncanny X-Men #3, Swamp Thing #4 & Defenders #1

This past week I crossed the Atlantic to visit to my hometown of Toronto for the holidays. Having purchased FF#12, Uncanny X-Men #3, Swamp Thing #4 and Defenders #1 last Wednesday for the flight, I read them over Iceland and thought I'd write a short review of each on this early jet-lagged morning. 

Let’s start with FF#12. In many respects this is the first issue of a new series because two weeks ago Marvel released Fantastic Four #600, a 100 page mega-comic which spilt the two Jonathan Hickman titles Fantastic Four and FF, the former having been on hiatus since the ‘death’ of Johnny Storm in #587. On December 21, the original title is back with Fantastic Four #601 and now FF is dedicated entirely to the stories of Franklin and Valeria Richards and the Future Foundation. 
From Marvel's FF #12, January 2012
The book was quite good and Jonathan Hickman is by far one of the best at weaving high level science-fiction into comic books. This one could have used a re-read of past issues just to get the story straight, but it was a good tale and Hickman was great at writing for the younger demographic found in this book. Juan Bobillo and Marcelo Sosa's cartoony art matches the youthful dimension to the comic and all in all, I think I'll keep going back.  

Uncanny X-Men #2 continues with the Sinister vs Extinction Team on the California coast and I really enjoyed this one. As a Canadian living in London, I further appreciated Briton Kieron Gillen's Nathaniel Essex/Sinister back-story which included a great image of Greenwich. While I wasn’t initially convinced Sinister was the right villain for the X-Men in the lead-up to this series, I really liked the ending of #2 and think the new ‘Sinister Species’ seems like a great nemesis for the X-Men. I’m definitely going to keep this title, which was a success for Marvel because I was considering dropping it after the first issue.  
From Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #2, January 2012 
From Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #2, January 2012


Moving to Swamp Thing #4, this was probably my favourite comic of the four books I read. I have to say (AGAIN!) Scott Snyder’s story-telling ability is simply fantastic. Also, as a long-time JRR Tolkien and Alan Moore fan, I really loved seeing the Parliament of Trees (Ents!) again, and I really appreciate how the New 52’s Swamp Thing is drawing on the rich history of the Saga of the Swamp Thing, the great run in the 80s. Moreover, seeing that great duality of the Green v the Rot was just awesome and I can't wait to see the conflict come to the fore. Keep ‘em coming, Scott.
From DC's Swamp Thing #4, February 2012
I close today with Defenders #1, a book I have been looking forward to since I first heard about it. As a long-time fan of the Silver Surfer and enjoyer of Matt Fraction’s work, I knew this book was something I would enjoy. Frankly, it did not disappoint, but because the first issues of team books are rarely more than set-up and introductory stories, I think we will have to wait until #2 to see how good it actually gets. I am looking forward to the battle/meeting that awaits us with the old Fantastic Four/Thor opponent Prester John in the next issue.  

From Marvel's Defenders #1, January 2012
So there you go: some quick reviews for mid December. Have a great holiday and I should be back with a couple more before the end of 2011. All the best!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Banksy Around Islington

I know, I know, Banksy art isn’t really about comic books. But it is about art, and art in an integral part of comics. So here you go -- some Banksy’s from around the London Borough of Islington, the little slice of London I call home. And in case you’re not overly familiar with Banksy, here’s a link to more information. Enjoy!
These two are located on Windsor Street off Essex Street near Angel in Islington.
Another of the two together. Look closely because there's some self-portraiture in here.
A little girl with what looks to be a rocket-launcher.
The Queen on a motorcycle
Close up
Windsor Street looking back at Essex Street.
Can you see it? This is about 20 minute walk south of the above pictures in Finsbury. While it's technically part of the London Borough of Islington, it has its own history.That's Rosebery Avenue in the foreground and the Royal Mail Mt. Pleasant Sorting Office to the left.
A bank machine attacking a little girl. That's a glass cover, so apparently its has both supporters and detractors.
Banksy's always cause controversy!
Looking down Rosebery Ave to to Holburn, Westminster & beyond! The frame is to the right.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Random Thoughts: November 2011

What a month November 2011 has been for comics! And due to time constraints I’m not even including the Nov 30 releases!
To begin, Scott Snyder’s Batman #3 was absolutely fantastic and continues to be the jewel in the crown of the New 52 titles I’ve stuck with. Moreover, I also have to say how impressive it is that Snyder continues to churn out two quality books – Batman and Swamp Thing – each month. I’ve been enjoying Swamp Thing (including #3) since the reboot, but Batman #3 was quite probably the best of the New 52 I've read. As I was reading I couldn’t help feel he was channelling Watchmen – the mystery, the history and the Owls – and advise you to get it immediately.

From DC's Batman #3, November 2011
Captain Atom #3 offered some good comic fun too, as did Superman #3. And while I’m not entirely convinced the guest appearance by Flash was necessary, I think J.T. Krul and Freddie Williams II are about to take the gloves off the Captain, and it will be interesting to see this nearly omnipotent character unleashed: especially now that he’s run afoul with the US government. Superman continues to establish itself as the contemporary Superman title and while #3 was more about establishing relationships I think the title will explode soon -- and that will be interesting. 

From DC's Captain Atom #3, November 2011
This should be my Facebook photo! From DC's Superman #3, November 2011
On the Marvel side of things, Wolverine and the X-Men was good and I really like the new Iceman/Bobby Drake. Chris Bachalo’s art has finally started to grow on me after a couple Regenesis issues, but unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by Alpha Flight #6 which seemed like a filler story. Of course, this could be chalked up to residual bitterness over the October cancellation announcement, and now that everyone’s favourite Headmaster has returned to Canada, I may be forgiving next month. Snikt!!!   
Bobby and Kitty in Marvel's Wolverine and the X-Men #2, November 2011
From Marvel's Alpha Flight #6/8, November 2011
And finally my most anticipated book this month: Fantastic Four #600. In it, we learn Jonathan Hickman didn’t actually kill off Johnny Storm, but kept him alive in the Negative Zone where he’s performing as a caged gladiator. I have to say, it was good seeing Johnny again and I’m curious to see how this near death experience alters the character. I’ve always believed Johnny’s more...youthful...personality has held him back, so perhaps we’ll see him return with a gravitas that would make him one of the most interesting and powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Of course, it wouldn’t have been a momentous edition of the ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ without Reed Richards striking up a deal with Galactus, but perhaps the most interesting part of the 100 page book was an artistic interpretation of the extraordinary powers of Franklin Richards. This actually provoked the same sort of reflection a good Arthur C. Clarke novel does. Bravo Marvel!

Hickman is taking these books (FF and Fantastic Four are splitting into two) into interesting directions, and while I know Marvel has been cancelling books and doesn’t have the market dominance it had before the New 52, it's good to see renewed vigour with the Fantastic Four. In my opinion, it's still the best comics property out there. 

Good to have you back, Johnny! From Marvel's Fantastic Four #600, November 2011

From Marvel's Fantistic Four #600, November 2011
Regarding other media, my favourite comic podcast, World Balloon with John Siuntres, released a two part interview on November 16 and 23 featuring a remarkable interview with industry stalwart Rob Liefeld. Here, Liefeld speaks candidly about the state of the industry, his work with Hawk and Dove, the New 52 and the fascinating intellectual property and licensing issues surrounding the recent Marvel films. The second podcast also features a free-wheeling conversation with Matt Fraction, which while being less about comics than popular culture, is interesting too. All in all, it was a fascinating couple hours of podcasting and I highly recommend you take a listen.

So that’s it for November 2011. I'll be back in December and am currently working on a couple feature-length pieces about ROM Spaceknight and the Laws of Warfare and  the Insanity defence and comic book villains.  Yep, a little light reading for the Christmas season! In any case, have a good  December and feel free to drop me a line with any suggestions or comments. Cheers!