Monday, December 30, 2013

WGTB Reviews Robotech Voltron #1

The first novel I ever attempted to write was a Star Trek/Star Wars crossover. I was a teenager and the story began with heroes Kirk and Spock blasting through a wormhole where they came across an Imperial Star Destroyer and found themselves in a shooting battle. This type of story – a property crossover – wasn't original and had been tried many times over, especially in comic books. For example, when Marvel owned the licences to the Hasbro properties GI Joe and Transformers, they produced a four part crossover mini-series in 1986. More recently, Star Trek: The Next Generation crossed with the BBC’s Dr. Who in 2012 in an eight issue mini-series by IDW. And just a couple months ago, IDW further announced that it was going back to the Hasbro well with Joes and Autobots being mashed together again, this time in an ongoing series beginning in the summer of 2014. 

Dynamite Entertainment's Robotech Voltron Vol.1 #1 (December 2013) Written by Tommy Yune, art and letters by Digital Art Chefs Team, pencils and digital inks by Elmer Damaso, Production Manager: James L. Parabay. Supervisor for colours and letters: Melvin Calingo 
So it was with these past comics in mind as well as a dose of cautious nostalgia for two properties I loved as a kid that I picked up Voltron Robotech #1, the first issue of a new five issue mini-series by Dynamite Entertainment. To this day I still read and enjoy the 1980s Comico Robotech comics and have always wanted to see Voltron as a comic book. (I do not know of another Voltron comic series.) That said, the aforementioned caution comes from the fact that while both properties are anime, other than that they don’t have a whole lot in common. Voltron for instance takes place in a distant future or universe that has a magical quality to it, while Robotech is a harder and more military-focused science-fiction. Below are two pages from the comic dealing with the Voltron and Robotech properties respectively.  

This page focuses on the Voltron aspect of the comic...

...and this one the Robotech.
So how did a comic merging the two properties together do? Well, while I’m always a little hesitant to judge a series on the merits of one issue, I have to say for the most part I was underwhelmed by this comic. Sure, in this short introduction to the story, the creators needed to re-establish two universes no easy task but I found much of the opening aspects of the comic rather unnecessary. For example, the first three pages consist of the old Voltron Peter Cullen TV voice over, and this could have been easily finished in the splash. From there I found the rest of the book sparse with its written story-telling almost devoid of captions that would have been very helpful in explaining how these two diverse stories were coming together. Blending two established canons is very difficult, and the book should have errored on the side of more information rather than what they did in issue #1. 
What on Earth indeed?
That said, the art of this book is good and has a classic anime feel to it. The colour palette is rich, as would be expected of this sort of book, and there are no surprises with the panels looking much like anything that's been seen a hundred times before in either Voltron or Robotech. Because of this, if you're inclined to read this type of comic, I'm not going out on a limb in telling you that you already know exactly what you're getting.  

All above images from Robotech Voltron #1 (December 2013) 
But overall the story just lacked a coherent punch to really excite me. Make no mistake, I'm very forgiving of these first issues and will pick up the second. But this is largely on the strength of my affection towards these properties rather than the first issue. Things could turn around, but as things stand it's unlikely I’ll buy #3. For that to happen the second issue will have to have much stronger story-telling and give us more of the great characters we know from both of these properties. Combining these two properties was a cool idea, but because it's otherwise a lacklustre comic book, issue #1 of Robotech Voltron only gets 2.5/5 STARS.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from WGTB!

I would like to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

May your holiday be filled with good cheer and fun with family and friends. And may your 2014 be filled with lots of great sci-fi stories and comic books. Talk to you soon!

Image from National Publications (DC Comics) Comic Cavalcade #9 (Winter 1945)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

WGTB Reviews Two Generals

I remember back in 2005 when I prepared a eulogy for my grandfather. I wanted to write something that was both short and enjoyable, yet grasped the gravitas of a long and distinguished aviation career that began as a fighter pilot in the early 1940s. Coming from small town Saskatchewan, Grandpa learned to fly in Canada before heading to Britain and eventually fighting over North Africa and Europe, ultimately surviving the war and returning to a career as a bush and corporate pilot. Being a humble man, Grandpa never bragged about his remarkable career but would occasionally sprinkle his conversations with fascinating stories about the various adventures he had during the war at Christmas and Easter dinners or at the mutual birthday parties we celebrated (I was born on his 57th birthday).  

Two Generals, Scott Chantler, McClelland & Stewart, 2010, pp. 145, C$ 27.99
I mention Grandpa because he came to mind as I read Two Generals, a graphic book by Canadian writer and artist Scott Chantler. In Two Generals Chantler tells the story of his own grandfather, Law Chantler and Law's best friend Jack Chrysler who both fought in the same war my grandfather did. Grandpa is also the reason that, while I don't normally review books almost four years old, I had to write this piece to tell my readers how much I enjoyed it.

Two Generals is a story about two friends serving in the Second World War. The book was written and drawn by one of these men's grandsons. All images from Two Generals.
As mentioned, Two Generals tells the story of two good friends. Not generals, but commissioned officers from Canada during the Second World War. From their origins in small Ontario towns, the two friends head off -- one married and the other a charming bachelor -- to do their part to end Hitler’s tyranny and win the war for King and country. Throughout the story we follow the lads and their experiences as they join the army, head to England, drink and enjoy themselves in London, train for battle and then, after waiting and waiting, finally launch towards France. As members of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, the men arrive during “Operation Overlord” (better known as the D-Day invasion) and after helping secure Juno Beach, head into occupied France where they experience the same highs, lows and horrors that so many of their friends and colleagues did during that hellish time.

The book is mostly grey, olive green and white, with red used to illustrate danger-focused points.
The story is both a tribute to the two soldiers and educational experience about the horrors and frustrations of war. The art, while not especially complex has a delightful story-telling quality and matches the flow of the dialogue and overall narrative seamlessly. It also selectively uses the colour red to mark points of hazard, which is very effective and gives the reader a sense of foreboding and danger as it happens. All of this makes it a very accessible book for a non-comic book reader and my father for example, not having read a comic book since the 1960s, was able to pick up Two Generals and get into the story immediately. And of course part of this book's charm is that it's a great story. We often hear about the bonds people forge during the toils of war – this is something I knew about my Grandpa – he loved his squadron buddies as much as anyone in his family. How these types of friendship are formed in very clear from this story and when the author describes how Law and Jack's friendship came to an abrupt end towards the end, it literally brought a tear to my eye. It was that sad. 

While focusing on the army, Two Generals doesn't ignore the overall horror that all those fighting faced.
Simply put, this book is a credit to the comic book medium and a great way to introduce any reader to both comics and the history of the Second World War. It doesn't glorify wars, rather explains what happens to many of the people who go off to fight in them. My only problem with the book is that it seems to have a slightly higher price-point than needed, and this might dissuade buyers. This issue won't really be a problem for teachers and libraries, and is probably mitigated by the fact that it's available in softcover now, but if you're looking to spend a little more than you might normally for a trade paperback, then I highly recommend Two Generals. I guarantee you'll read it again and might even share it with someone who's interested in WWII. 4.5/5 STARS

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving... all of my American readers. May your holiday be filled with the very best of friends, family and FOOTBALL! I actually got into the NFL (I've always watched the Canadian game) when I lived in the United Kingdom and American Thanksgiving was one of the few days when we could watch the NFL at a normal hour! 

Cover of Marvel's Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #564 (April 2009)
We Canadians are fantastically lucky to have the Great Republic to our immediate south. We've been through a great many things together -- and while we don't always agree on everything -- Canadians could not ask for a better neighbour. Safe travels to anyone away from home this Thanksgiving and have a wonderful long-weekend. 

Guardian and Captain America from Marvel's Alpha Flight Vol. 1 #39 (October 1986)

Monday, November 18, 2013

WGTB Reviews Thor: The Dark World

As 2013's comic book movies go Thor: The Dark World was the one I was most looking forward to. As a long-time Thor fan (this blog was named after a Thor splash page) and someone who enjoyed the first film very much, I figured Marvel Studios would be able to capture the same magic in the bottle they did in 2011. Which is why, even though I'm a little late with this particular review, I felt compelled to write and give an opinion of the film. You see, I was very disappointed with Dark World finding it a convoluted mess plot-wise, loaded with gratuitous and needless destruction (yes, even for a comic book movie) and weighed down by weak and disappointing female leads.

Thor: The Dark World (2013) Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Huddleston, Stellan Ksarsgard, Christopher Eccleston, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander and Anthony Hopkins.  RATED: PG-13,  TIME: 112 Minutes 

The plot tells the story of an ancient Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who, long ago having been conquered by the Asgardians, returns to look for a key source of his power, a weapon known as the Either. Taking place in modern London and Asgard, we learn that in ages past right to the present day, the Nine Realms occasionally converge to make it easier for travel between them. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her fellow researcher Darcy (Kat Dennings) stumble into an area in the British capital where a gateway between worlds has opened and Jane is taken into one where she somehow merges with the Either. Thor shows up and takes Jane back to Asgard six hours later with the remainder of the story involving Malekith trying to get his weapon back and destroy his ancient enemies. 

To start the substantive portion of this review, let's look at the positives. The visuals of Dark World are fantastic (Asgard looks especially good) and the battle scenes were also very well done. Unfortunately, these elements could not make up for a plot that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Nobody explains why Foster acquired the Either or why all the doors between realms always happen to be exactly where the heroes need them to be, among so many other plot failings.

And, of course, no-one in the Marvel films has yet to explain why the Norse gods are real while the Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Japanese, Hindu, etc. pantheons are not or why the regions that originated the Norse gods have yet to be mentioned. I know filming in Oslo or Reykjavik might be cost prohibitive (and this point is somewhat tangential) but I'm really starting to get frustrated that the peoples who worshipped Thor, Odin, et al, are not mentioned in these films. Just a throw-away line about how the doorways to the Nine Realms of the ancient alien God-Heroes was once located in Scandinavia would do the trick. But I digress...

I found the real issue with Dark World is how plot takes a back-seat to gratuitous violence and destruction with no real point. Let me be clear: action scenes that drive the story forward are good and necessary for action films. But in Dark World we watch the Royal Naval College, one of the most spectacular locales in London get destroyed, but I still can't understand why except they needed a nice place to wreck. The 'all-star' nature of 2012's Avengers lent itself to the cataclysmic events of Manhattan being torn apart, but Dark World, like its summer cousin Man of Steel, didn't need so much violence to make the point. So I need to ask: has destroying large metropolitan areas become the pro forma climax of comic book films? Perhaps. But I think it's the wrong way to go. Both Marvel's and DC's characters are great and deserve writers who treat them as such. 

This magnificent structure, the Royal Navel College (now the University of Greenwich), was destroyed in Thor: The Dark World. It remains one of your humble blogger's favourite areas of London. 
I also found the female lead characters weak. Yes, there were some of the funny one-liners we now expect from Marvel’s movies and Kat Denning offered some comic relief that levitated the story. But Jane Foster was feeble and this is especially odd considering Natalie Portman is one of Hollywood's most intelligent and self-assured actors. Unfortunately, in Dark World, while not being devoid of strength, Foster comes across as a needy weakling who is hung-up on Thor. An example of this is seen early when, upon meeting Thor for the first time in two years, Foster slaps him in the face and seconds later appears hopelessly in love with him and starts talking about how she cried when he left. Also, Sif (Jaimie Alexander) while given a prominent position in the movie poster and subsequent marketing of the film, is a tertiary character at best and hardly the presence she is in the Marvel comic universe. Indeed, the strongest female character is Thor's mother, Frigga, Queen of Asgard and she dies mid way through the film. 

Consistent readers of this blog will know that I hate panning films. But I needed a cathartic release after this recent offering by Marvel Studios. If you think I'm off-base or missed something please leave a comment and I'll reply when I can. Things have been busy on this end, so I haven't been as frequent with the blog as I would like. But thank you never-the-less for reading and please keep visiting. The visuals save Thor: The Dark World but it still only gets a 2/5 STARS overall.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Marvel 1602 & Treason in the Common Law World

Neil Gaiman is one of those authors who is great at taking an everyday concept like history or religion and turning it into a fantastic romp of thought provoking fiction. American Gods, the story of America’s antiquated religious traditions, remains one of my favourite novels and we recently heard some great news from New York Comic Con about reprints of Gaiman's time on Marvelman. Recently, I got around to reading Gaiman’s Marvel 1602, an eight issue mini-series published in 2003 and 2004 that takes the mainstay characters of the Marvel Universe and drops them into Tudor-Stuart Britain and America. 

Cover of Marvel 1602 #1 (November 2003) Written by Neil Gaiman, art by Andy Kubert, digital printing by Richard Isanove, letters by Todd Klien, cover by Scott McKowen and edited by Joe Quesada.
One of the key plot points of Marvel 1602 revolves around the well known yet little understood crime of treason. Set against a tumultuous transitional period -- one which saw the end of the last Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I and the first Stuart, King James I (VI of Scotland) -- the story captures the religious, political and dynastic turmoil of early modern Britain very well. Because Elizabeth’s forty-four years as the Queen of England did not result in an immediate heir to her throne, the kingdom of England was inherited by the next in line, Elizabeth's first cousin once removed James Stuart, King of Scotland. Upon Elizabeth's death in 1603, England and Scotland entered into what is called a “personal union” with both countries sharing the same monarch, yet maintaining separate parliaments, judges, laws, etc. Because England was much bigger than Scotland, as soon as he was declared king, James moved south to reign in London. 

Counsel to Queen Elizabeth I in Marvel 1603 include Sir Nick Fury and Dr. Strange. Image from Marvel 1603 #1 (November 2003)
But even before the new king arrived in London he set about making a mark on his new country. For example, as he travelled south he named knights along the route to London, and in one instance extra-judicially executed an alleged thief who had been hounding the royal procession along the route. This was disconcerting for many in the English political and legal establishment, but the example of Sir Walter Raleigh, a one time favourite of Queen Elizabeth and someone who Sir Nick Fury appears to be a surrogate for in Marvel 1602, quickly convinced them to keep their mouths shut. The most serious crime alleged against Sir Walter was treason. 

Sir Nick and Queen Elizabeth I in Marvel 1602 #3 (January 2004)
Raleigh’s trial saw the prosecution use hearsay evidence and judges who were plainly on the side of the Crown. The case itself was led by Attorney-General of England Sir Edward Coke, but uncharacteristic to Coke's stellar judicial work years later, the trial involved procedural irregularities that would only be found in the most backward and rule-of-law deprived states of today. The treason alleged in this case involved Sir Walter's supposed involvement to replace the Scottish king with his cousin Lady Arbella Stuart. The word treason comes from the Latin trāditiōn or trāditiō meaning "a handing over or betrayal" and is an ancient crime involving disloyalty to the monarch and state. In the common law world it was first codified by the English parliament in the Treason Act 1351 with the law distinguishing between two forms of the crime: High Treason, which involved various forms of disloyalty to the Sovereign and Petty Treason (which will not be discussed beyond this point) which involved disloyally towards a Lord, employer, etc. The biggest difference between the two was that High Treason meant a death sentence with hanging, drawing and quartering for a man or the burning at the stake for a woman. 

Crimes against the king were considered as equal as a crime against the state in early modern Britain. The essence of that still survives in the treason laws of today. Image from Marvel 1603 #5 (March 2004).
The Treason Act of 1351 enumerated treason as working towards the death of the sovereign or members of the sovereign's immediate family; levying war against the sovereign in the realm; joining with the sovereign's enemies or giving them aid and comfort; and killing senior public servants or justices. Perhaps the most striking pillar of early High Treason was that it was also illegal to have sexual relations with the sovereign’s immediate family, thereby contaminating the royal bloodline. One hundred and seventy odd years later, the framers of the United States constitution -- undoubtedly cognizant of their revolutionary origins -- mentioned treason by name in Section 3 of Article 3 of that document, the only crime given that honour. Naturally, the founders of the young republic omitted the bit about having sex with the president's family. It read: 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted. 

Currently, treason can be found in Section 80.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 in Australia, Section 46 of the Criminal Code of Canada, and in the Treason Felony Act 1848 of United Kingdom. In all of these constitutional monarchies one of the key themes of the crime is that it's against the Queen and country and manifested in some type of revolutionary activity. This is what differentiates treason from crimes such as murder which while running counter to laws passed in the name of the monarch and prosecuted in her name (as in Regina v Smith) it is never-the-less not against her per se and therefore not treason.    

Behold the Traitors' Gate of the infamous Tower of London on the River Thames! Originally built as a palace for the Norman kings, it eventually became the a prison for the monarch's enemies.
And in modern democracies where people are free to vote against their government; protest the wars in which their countries participate, or even argue that the President of the United States is ineligible to hold his office, creates a situation where treason cases are exceedingly rare. The last treason trial in the United Kingdom was in 1946 and the last Canadian treason trial was in 1947; both of which had to do with activities in the Second World War. However, in the United States, treason has made a come-back with the Department of Justice recently issuing an indictment for one Adam Gadahn, an alleged American-born Al-Qaeda operative. He is currently at large, so we will have to wait to see what happens at any trial, but it will never-the-less be interesting.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Addendum to the Previous Post on the Uncanny X-Men, Alpha Flight & Criminal Code of Canada

It's not very often that one can write a blog entry and only weeks later enjoy a conversation with one of the creators you wrote about. But this happened for me yesterday when I had a delightful conversation (and got a few autographs too) with legendary comics creator Chris Claremont at a comic shop here in Toronto.

Some of the autographed comics from Sunday's signing with Chris Claremont. 
I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to finally meet Mr. Claremont. I've been a fan for as long as I've been reading comics (1986?) and found him to be every bit as friendly as I could have hoped. In chatting I mentioned my previous blog entry about Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada and we had a nice discussion about it. He mentioned that the point of the story was not to imply that Georges Baptiste would be punished automatically. Rather, that it was to explain that the Canadian justice system would have to go to work and ensure Mr. Baptiste was treated fairly and received the help, punishment or a combination of both that justice required. This is exactly what Section 16 and the mental disorder defence is about.  

Anyways, it was a fantastic little Sunday vingette and I encourage anyone who has an opportunity to meet Chris Claremont to get out and do so. I'm sure he'll be as appreciative of the encounter has you'll be.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alpha Flight, X-Men and Secton 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada

I was reading the Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past trade paperback by Chris Claremont and John Byrne recently. Alpha Flight fans may remember that the arch immediately prior to Days of Future Past (and featured in its trade) is an Wendigo-focused story that happens in northern Canada and has the X-Men and Alpha Flight working together, something that had been a rarity up until that point. One of the later panels of Uncanny X-Men #141 particularly caught my attention. Have a look: 

Wendigo reverts to Georges Baptiste and is promply arrested in Uncanny X-Men #140 (December 1980).
Later, Guardian explains what will happen to Mr. Baptiste after his arrest. Also from Uncanny X-Men #140 (December 1980).
Alpha Flight has always been somewhat of an anomaly in comics because its an early state-sponsored superhero group. Of course, we saw groups like this in Golden Age WWII comics; the aftermath of Marvel's Civil War event in late 2000s; and even the U.S. government employed Superman in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns in 1986. But from their very beginnings Alpha Flight has always seemed to be working on behalf of the Canadian government in peacetime. Which is what brought these “super-mounties” into contact with the X-Men and Wendigo in the first place. 

But what exactly would happen “under Canadian law” in this instance? Could Mr. Baptiste be held responsible for any crimes while possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo? And what defences could his lawyers use so the courts "aren't too hard on him" as Guardian suggests? In this short piece I'm going to examine Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada and how Mr. Baptiste might use the defence of a mental disorder to prove to the court that he should not be found criminally responsible for his actions.


Simply put, defences are the means by which defence lawyers prove to the “trier of fact” (which in most cases is a jury in Canada, but at times can also be a judge) that the Accused should not be found guilty of the alleged crime. Serious crimes in Canada must have both a Mens Rea (a guilty mind) and an Actus Reus (a corresponding guilty act). This is very important because it's against natural justice, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and even common sense to seriously punish someone who didn't have a guilty mind when they committed a crime.

In Canada, our bedrock document relating to criminal law is the Criminal Code of Canada. This massive tome, while not containing all Canadian criminal law, contains the vast majority of it. First created in the 1892 in an effort to put into statute or "codify" the criminal law of Canada, the text has been amended over the years as Canada's changed. The Code not only contains offences that a person can be charged with, but also defences that can be used by the Accused to prove they are not guilty or criminally responsible. These range from age capacity (Section 13) to the defence of property (Section 40). For the purposes of today's discussion, the defence that applies to the events of Uncanny X-Men #139 and #140 is the mental disorder defence, which is Section 16.  

The "Super-Mounties" of the Marvel universe. Here's Alpha Flight from X-Men and Alpha Flight Vol. 2 #2 (June 1998)
Section 16

Taken directly from the Criminal Code, Canada's mental disorder (we do not say "Insanity") defence is:  

No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of: 1) appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or; 2) of knowing that it was wrong.   

Like much of Canadian law, this section of the Criminal Code reaches back to English criminal law, specifically the judgment of M'Naghten's Case of 1843. In M'Naghten, the accused, a Mr. Daniel M'Naghten (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, McNaughtan or McNaughton), attempted to kill British Prime Minister Robert Peel. He was unsuccessful, but in the melee ended up killing one of the prime minister's aides. The resulting trial eventually found its way to the House of Lords, then the court of last resort in the United Kingdom, where the judgment reflected the longstanding idea that mental illness should not be met with retribution, but with mercy.   

Of course, the press and many elected officials vociferously denounced the verdict, something that happened when John Hinkley, Jr. successfully used the defence after his failed assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan almost 140 years later. Congress and a number of states took immediate action to ban the so-called "insanity defence" outright, but the M'Naghten defence still remains on the books in a number of US jurisdictions, just as it is used in Canada and in England and Wales.  

Guardian getting it done in X-Men and Alpha Flight Vol. 2 #2 (June 1998)
Which takes us to the case at hand. In defending Mr. Baptiste, I would say counsel's best move is a Section 16 defence, something Guardian even alludes to. Of course, because the curse of the Wendigo is enacted by the consumption of human flesh, we would have to prove that Mr. Baptiste did not consume the flesh with the intent of becoming a monster, but only out of a desire to survive in the wilderness. This is because we would not want to use the analogous logic of someone using "liquid courage" to commit a crime and then claiming intoxication as a defence. But if Mr. Baptiste didn't understand that his actions would lead to him becoming Wendigo and this subsequent magical mental illness made him loose control of his actions (thereby negating any Mens Rea) I think a Section 16 defence would work. 

It is important to understand that what constitutes a "mental disorder" is a question of law and therefore left to the judge to decide. So while cases involving Section 16 inevitably involve psychiatric experts testifying under oath (and there are provisions to prevent an endless "battle of the experts"), ultimately the judge will decide if there is a disease of the mind in play. She or he will then instruct the trier of fact (jury) to answer: 1) at the relevant time of the crime the accused was incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of his/her action, and if so; 2) he or she did not know that it was wrong. 

And as in all Canadian criminal law, there is case law to guide a Section 16 defence, such as what "appriciate" actually means or how Section 16 relates to specific illnesses, but that is beyond the scope of our piece today. Hopefully however you're leaving here with a better understanding of Canadian criminal law, The Criminal Code of Canada and the Claremont/Byrne run on Uncanny X-Men. Using Section 16 with regard to a magical possession seems a little bit of a stretch, but that's the fun of comics and may even have even been on Guardian's mind he says Mr. Baptiste's actions were those of an "insane man". Thanks again for stopping by and I hope you're having a great September.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

WGTB Reviews Two Books on Superman

With Superman having turned 75 this year, it's a truism to say he is one of the most enduring fictional characters in pop-culture. But where did he come from and how has he changed over the decades? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question or just want to brush up on the Man of Steel’s history, then you’re in luck: in recent months two great books released that will help you get to know Superman better. 
Superboys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster -- the Creators of Superman, Brad Ricca, St. Martin's Press, 2013, pp. 448, $33.99

The first we'll look at today is Superboys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster -- The Creators of Superman written by Brad Ricca. Superboys is an updated creator-focused account of Superman's origins and the personal highs and lows, two of the most famous men in comics experienced while creating their iconic character.

Ricca, educated at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland-born himself, makes the Ohio roots and the personal and professional lives of Jerry and Joe the focus of his work. Examining early accounts of the Seigel and Shuster history, the book takes us all the way back to the Netherlands, Russia and Canada before we finally arrive at Glenville High School in Ohio, where the two met and became close friends and collaborators. The book also focuses on the early science-fiction fanzines of Joe, the famous Reign of the Superman story, and the sale of the rights of Superman to National Publications. Along the way the book explores the minds and personalities of the creators with special focus on how these two teenagers longed for something better and eventually found this in Superman, only to have it torn away by a bad deal.

The research of this book is extensive and it's especially good when dealing with the legal aspects of the early Superman story. Siegel and Shuster were paid very little ($130) for use of the character and Ricca does a fantastic job at detailing what exactly happened after they made their ‘work for hire’ deal. Because the book was published in 2013, the author was also able to draw, not just upon the widely known episodes of the early years of Superman, but the latest legal proceedings, the likes of which only recently wrapped up in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Reading dialogue taken almost directly from depositions is always interesting, and certainly fits the comprehensive nature of Superboys. Much of the story of Siegel and Shuster has been told before, but if you’re looking for an up-to-date version par excellence, you will enjoy this well written and comprehensive volume. 4.5/5 STARS.

Next we turn to Superman: the Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon. This book is a great place for anyone who wants to know the history of the Superman character as he appeared in the various mediums that have told his story. Weldon, a freelance writer who makes regular appearances on National Public Radio in the U.S., hasn't written an "origin story" per se and barely touches on the Siegel and Shuster aspect of Superman. Rather, he surveys how Superman has evolved over the course of his distinguished career in comics and other media. 

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Glen Weldon, Wiley, 2013, pp. 353, $27.45

Beginning with the Golden Age character -- who at times seemed more like a self-righteous bully than the superhero we know today -- Unauthorized tells us how Superman has evolved, how his powers changed, and even mentions some of the other stranger powers that have fallen on the wayside. 

Whedon also goes through the early comic stories issue by issue, drawing on examples from the early comics to demonstrate how as the Golden Age gave way to the Silver, Bronze and Modern ages, Superman has evolved and changed with American society. We learn of the earliest and lasting villains; the Mad Men-esque conflicts with Lois Lane of the 50s and 60s; and the gimmicks, reboots and costume changes of later years that have all intended to sell more comics. 

Slogging through Golden and Silver Age comics (not to mention Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) is a challenge for even the most die-hard fan, and having done this Weldon proves his mantle as both fan and expert on the topic of Superman. Writing with a humour, style and detailed understanding of the subject matter, this book is without a doubt a great start for anyone who wants to get caught up on Superman and learn how the character has evolved over the years. The latter chapters – from the 1980s onward – are especially good at offering trade paperback suggestions for those lapsed fans looking to get caught up. As such, this book earns a 4/5 STARS

In the early part of his book, Glen Weldon boils down Superman's fundamental attributes to: 1) he always puts the needs of others ahead of himself; and, 2) he never gives up. Both of the above books, while focusing on different aspects of the Superman character, demonstrate that these common threads are what make him such an enduring and enjoyable character. Superman is and will remain one of the greatest superheroes, but his past remains just as interesting and worth knowing if you're willing to take the time. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of your summer. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fan Expo Canada 2013

I know its been a while since I've written on WGTB, but in my experience summer is prone to either a deluge of blog writing or very little. So to make up for the recent drought, I have a bunch of articles coming soon. But in the meanwhile, here are some choice photographs from Fan Expo Canada 2013 (August 22-25). Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the Friday of the four day show, but these pics should give you a sense of how Canada's largest fan and comics convention fared. It was pretty good, and certainly biggest and busiest I've seen yet.   

As usual, the Whovians and Deleks are out in force! 
As were the Trekkies as this convention featured some prominent Star Trek cast members. Here's the legendary George Takai signing autographs.
This year's Fan Expo was the first to use both halls of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Early attendance figures put it at over 100,000 people.
Sons of Anarchy was featured prominently this year and anecdotal t-shirt evidence says the fanbase is growing. Here's a SOA-themed Harley-Davidson.
Dark Horse brought a booth. Unfortunately DC and Marvel did not.

And Marvel heard about this perceived slight at the Marvel: Infinity panel. Left to right: An unidentified fan, Marvel SVP, Publishing Tom Brevoort, editor Ellie Pyle and creators Stuart & Kathryn Immonen. Highlights of this panel included: 
1) Re: the Ultimate universe: We must continue to expect the unexpected. But there is no confirmed information about Hunger and any Ultimate characters coming over to Earth-616.

2) Brian Michael Bendis is heavily involved in the upcoming X-Men: Battle of the Atom crossover, so we can expect something tying that arch to the recently completed Age of Ultron.

3) There may be more New Universe characters coming to Earth-616. This shouldn't surprise anyone after Jonathan Hickman's use of Star Brand in Avengers. 

Friday also featured a great panel with Walt and Louise Simonson. Seen here are an unknown tech-guy and host (left), Walt (middle) and Louise (right). It was fun hearing about the creation of Beta Ray Bill, Walt's upcoming creator-owned work with IDW, writing the Star Wars comics of the early 80s and why he changed Warren Worthington III in X-Factor. Louise offered some great stories about working with Walt and how the DC editorial team came up with the idea to kill Superman in the early 1990s.  
After the Simonson panel, there was another with the always engaging Neil Adams. Here, Adams spilled the beans about the Silver Age with stores about the Comics Code, the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue involving a drug-using Speedy, and how he didn't get to finish The Kree/Skull War to his satisfaction.
Avatar Comics had a great display booth.
The Toronto Lego Users Group had a presence with a Death Star trench display and...
...a Lego Serenity from Firefly. I asked if any glue was involved and the host (left) said no.  
The Batmobile circa 1989. Looks like a homebuilt, but it's still very cool. 
80s icon KITT from Knight Rider 
The cockpit of KITT. How would one do a U-turn in that thing?  
George Takei talks about working on the set of Star Trek, past convention practical jokes, his use of social media and a musical he co-wrote called Allegiance. It's about the experience of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. He's such an engaging speaker!
While fellow Star Trek alum Nichelle Nichols spoke about her family history, her father's early support and encouragement and being one of the first  African-American women on network television.
And finally Ian McDiarmid a.k.a. the Emperor from the Star Wars universe spoke about his casting break as the Emperor in 1982, working on the subsequent trilogy as Palpatine and what it's like being a pop culture icon. The Scotsman was great and he even did that evil voice!

All in all it was a great day spent, and another successful FanExpo Canada.